Some lawmakers say Hunter Biden gun charge should be prosecuted more often

WASHINGTON — Some members of Congress in both parties say the gun charge that the Justice Department used to secure a conviction against Hunter Biden ought to be enforced more regularly.

Legal experts said after the indictment that the gun-related statute is rarely used by prosecutors. A number of senators and representatives told NBC News that ought to change.

“I think they have not been pursuing gun charges. I think we could do a lot to make our communities safer if the DOJ would more actively prosecute gun violations,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, told NBC News.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., also said the firearm charge should be used more often by prosecutors.

“Yes. Of course,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said. “I hear a lot of people will say, ‘Well, this is never prosecuted.’ Attempting to get a gun and being turned down because of your reckless behavior, technically, is a crime. But it’s not prosecuted because they never get the gun.”

“What makes this situation so egregious is that Mr. Biden got the gun, and he had the gun, and he would have had the gun for a while had … his girlfriend at the time not thrown it away,” he continued.

Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, was charged last year with having “knowingly made a false and fictitious written statement, intended and likely to deceive that dealer with respect to a fact material to the lawfulness of the sale of the firearm” that he obtained in 2018. The alleged lie was that he wasn’t an unlawful user or addict of drugs. A jury found him guilty Tuesday.

“A jury found it compelling that he clearly lied on the form while being a drug addict. And he should not have been able to purchase a gun,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “I regret the personal cost to Hunter Biden and his family, but I do think that law ought to be enforced more often because it will save lives.”

Some Republicans disagree.

“Hunter might deserve to be in jail for something, but purchasing a gun is not it,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said on X. “There are millions of marijuana users who own guns in this country, and none of them should be in jail for purchasing or possessing a firearm against current laws.”

Biden himself invoked gun rights in his defense, with defense attorneys arguing the case was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.

Other lawmakers said they didn’t have a strong opinion on it, including Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

“I haven’t really thought about … I don’t know what the current prosecution rate is now,” he said, positing that perhaps the rarity of the charge “has to do with competing priorities.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Hunter Biden did worse things than what he was charged with regarding obtaining a firearm.

“I don’t think the average person would’ve been charged with this crime,” he said. “They just did this as a throwaway.”

The gun charge was initially going to be dropped as part of a plea deal with special counsel David Weiss’ office last year. As part of the deal, which U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika ultimately rejected, Biden submitted a statement of facts acknowledging he “was a user of and addicted to crack cocaine at the time” of the gun sale. 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., an outspoken proponent of tougher gun laws, said he hadn’t studied “how prosecutors approach those cases” when asked about the gun-related charges in the Biden case.

He added, more broadly, that Republicans have a double standard when it comes to claims about politicized prosecutions: “It’s pretty wild that Republicans think it’s OK for Democrats to get convicted and it’s illegitimate for Republicans to get convicted.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former prosecutor who favors tougher gun laws, said of the firearm charge used in the Hunter Biden case: “No single prosecution is necessarily a precedent, but if it sets a trend, all to the good.”

The senator added that the firearm-related statute is typically associated with other illegal activities and that he’d like to see it enforced more aggressively.

“Typically, our gun safety laws are inadequately enforced because of lack of attention and resources, so much stronger, more vigorous enforcement is absolutely one of the answers to gun violence prevention,” Blumenthal said.

A majority of Americans say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun in this country, according to a September 2023 study by the Pew Research Center. There was a sharp partisan divide; while 86% of Democrats said it’s too easy to obtain a gun legally, just 34% of Republicans said the same.

The Connecticut Democrat referenced his prosecutorial history to call for enforcement of laws on the books.

“I’ve advocated for years and years that these laws be more rigorously enforced. When I was a United States attorney, I enforced them. They are often — in fact, almost always — associated with other criminal conduct. They’re part of drug operations or other kinds of illicit activity, typically.”