Kansas City, Mo. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft recalled the legacy of Ronald Reagan on Wednesday, calling the former president "the Great Liberator" while making the case for a program he said could earn President Bush the moniker "the Great Protector."
"This history of George W. Bush is yet to be written," Ashcroft told a crowd of more than 1,000 local, state and federal prosecutors in Kansas City for a conference on the Project Safe Neighborhoods program.
The program is a Department of Justice campaign aimed at reducing crime involving guns nationwide. Since Bush took office, Ashcroft said, more than $1 billion in federal money has been spent on the program.
Administered by the 92 U.S. attorneys offices across the country, the program is designed to get the harshest possible sentence for people who use guns while committing a crime.
The program has resulted in the lowest violent crime rate in 30 years, said Ashcroft, a former Missouri senator. Still, more must be done to combat gun crimes in the United States, he said while announcing $43 million in new program grants.
"You and I know that a victim of crime is still a victim," Ashcroft said. "As long as there is crime, we have a war to wage. No robbery or rape is acceptable to a victim of robbery or rape."
While the crime rate is dropping, he said, the number of federal firearms prosecutions increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2003.
In 2003, the Justice Department filed the highest number of federal firearms cases in the department's history. During that year, 93 percent of those convicted of gun crimes were sentenced to some prison time.