Weapons prosecutions on track for strongest year in more than a decade

The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of weapons prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown. Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars. (Source: TRAC)

Federal data suggests 2018 could be the Department of Justice’s busiest year ever in more than a decade for weapons prosecutions.

Should authorities keep up at the current pace, total annual prosecutions will exceed more than 10,000 this year — a 22.5 percent increase over 2017 and up by nearly half over the last five years, according to the Transactional Records Clearing House.

Weapons prosecutions peaked at 11,000 in 2004 and dropped to less than 7,000 a decade later. Since 2014, however, TRAC data shows a gradual uptick in prosecutions, punctuated by a steep increase this year as the DOJ cracks down on gun-related crimes.

Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of weapons matters filed in U.S. District Court during the first 10 months of FY 2018. (Source: TRAC)

The top prosecuted weapons charges include “firearms, unlawful acts; firearms, penalties; and drug-abuse prevention and control-prohibited acts,” according to TRAC. The Eastern District of Missouri, the Southern District of Alabama and the Western District of Tennessee round out the top three judicial districts for weapons prosecutions, where the per capita rate exceeds that national average — 25.5 per 1 million — by more than seven times.

The data supports Attorney General Jeff Sessions renewed focus on stamping out violent crime — a priority he and President Donald Trump wasted no time pursuing after Sessions’s narrow Senate confirmation last year. Through his crime-fighting task force, prosecutions for drug crimes, gang violence and gun violations hit historic highs, increasing 8 percent over 2016. Prosecutions for unlawful possession of a firearm — mostly by convicted felons — spiked 23 percent in the second quarter of 2017 alone.

“That sends a clear message to criminals all over this country that if you carry a gun illegally, you will be held accountable,” Sessions said last year. “I am grateful to the many federal prosecutors and agents who are working hard every day to make America safe again.”

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