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July 30, 2017

Should an uptick in federal gun prosecutions garner bipartisan praise?

The question in the title of this post was my first thought upon seeing this press release from the Justice Department released Friday under the heading "Federal Gun Prosecutions Up 23 Percent After Sessions Memo."  Here is the full text of the press release:

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that, following the memorandum from Attorney General Sessions to prioritize firearm prosecutions, the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm increased nearly 23 percent in the second quarter of 2017 (2,637) from the same time period in 2016 (2,149).

“Violent crime is on the rise in many parts of this country, with 27 of our biggest 35 cities in the country coping with rising homicide rates,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  “Law abiding people in some of these communities are living in fear, as they see families torn apart and young lives cut short by gangs and drug traffickers.  Following President Trump’s Executive Order to focus on reducing crime, I directed federal prosecutors to prioritize taking illegal guns off of our streets, and as a result, we are now prosecuting hundreds more firearms defendants. In the first three months since the memo went into effect, charges of unlawful possession of a gun -- mostly by previously convicted felons -- are up by 23 percent.  That sends a clear message to criminals all over this country that if you carry a gun illegally, you will be held accountable.  I am grateful to the many federal prosecutors and agents who are working hard every day to make America safe again.”

In February, immediately after the swearing-in of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump signed an Executive Order that directs the Attorney General to seek to reduce crime and to set up the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.  The Task Force has provided Sessions with recommendations on a rolling basis.  In March, based on these recommendations, Attorney General Sessions sent a memorandum to Department of Justice prosecutors, ordering them to prioritize firearms offenses.

In the three months immediately following the Attorney General’s memo -- April, May and June -- the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm (18 U.S.C. 922) increased by nearly 23 percent compared to those charged over the same time period in 2016.  The number of defendants charged with the crime of using a firearm in a crime of violence or drug trafficking (18 U.S.C. 924), increased by 10 percent.

Based on data from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), in Fiscal Year 2016 (starting October 1), 11,656 defendants were charged with firearms offenses under 18 U.S.C. 922 or 924.  EOUSA projects that in Fiscal Year 2017, the Department is on pace to charge 12,626 defendants with these firearms crimes.  That would be the most federal firearms cases since 2005.  It would also be an increase of eight percent from Fiscal Year 2016, 20 percent from 2015, and an increase of 23 percent from 2014.

Of course, as regular readers on this blog know well, many on the political left have been critical of various efforts by AG Sessions to ramp up federal prosecutions. But much of the criticism is based on concerns about escalating the federal drug war, especially as it applies to lower-lever and nonviolent offenders. As the title of this post is meant to suggest, perhaps this latest data showing a ramp up of gun prosecutions could be met with some applause from political left given the tendency of the left to support tougher restrictions on gun possession. (Of course, some parts of the libertarian-faction of the political right has also expressed concerns about recent work by AG Sessions, and they might be more troubled by these data.)

Critically, without having more information about the "who and how" of increased federal gun prosecutions, I do not feel sufficiently informed to robustly praise or criticize these developments. But I do think it interesting and notably that the first new data being stressed by the Sessions DOJ involves a type of prosecution that could garner support from both sides of the political aisle.

July 30, 2017 at 04:31 PM | Permalink


Well, I think part of the problem is the left that likes gun control seems to have little interest in existing laws making it difficult for convicts and other allegedly dangerous folks to own firearms: they are unsatisfied by anything short of a ban.

Also, kind of interesting that "gun prosecutions, in this case meaning indictments/complaints, are 'up'" is a meaningful stat, really. Convictions perhaps. Maybe it is meaningful in the context of federal prosecution of the poors, where indictment and conviction run a 1:1 ratio.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jul 30, 2017 4:39:42 PM

Members of the left regularly focus on limited goals and do not try merely to obtain a ban. In fact, other than certain types of weapons, the left to me are not focusing on "a ban" ["assault weapons" are on the list at times] much at all as such these days as compared to background checks, concern for victims of domestic violence and so forth.

This is what the "political left" has sought on a national and state level, from what I can tell.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 30, 2017 5:25:02 PM

Never, never, ever trust a government press release!

Posted by: albeed | Jul 30, 2017 6:13:26 PM

Question behind the statistics, do the increased numbers reflect more federal involvement in gun investigations or more federal prosecutors filing federal charges on state investigations. (Likely some of both, but more of federal prosecutors filing on state cases.) I can think of reasons why state and federal law enforcement might opt for federal prosecutions (longer sentences, no parole), but if the increase is mostly shuffling cases from one court to another, then it is unlikely to have much impact on the level of violence in the short-term.

Posted by: tmm | Jul 30, 2017 7:53:32 PM


1) Were any of the gun prosecutions of crime victims shooting back at the lawyer client? Police, prosecutor, and state court found a victim who shot an ultra-violent, super-predator, black thug innocent. The crime victim was prosecuted by a hate filled female lawyer. This Arab female should have been forced to pay all legal cost from her personal assets.

2) Does the DOJ plan to prosecute states like New Jersey, for violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause by prosecuting black mothers from Pennsylvania carrying a gun in their ca? This pro-criminal, lawyer controlled state should be fined a $billion by the DOJ, to deter the pro-criminal government.

3) Does it plan to end the unconscionable, self dealt immunity of prosecutors, judges, and legislators who by their carelessness in false prosecution, and in wrongful discretion injure individual crime victims?

4) If the stupid Supreme Court has said, the police has no duty to the individual, but it does to the entire city, can a city file an aggregate claim against the DOJ and against the local police, for a surge in murders caused by the Draconian and invalid consent decree obtained by uber asshole, Harvard Law grad Rod Rosenstein, for what he did to Baltimore?

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 30, 2017 8:42:41 PM

Supremacy, Im getting bored. You used to entertain me with such descriptive words like, rent seeking, reptile lawyers, coffee sluping, hanging around the bubbler, looking down secretaries blouses ( Messed a few up and forgot some)

So what gives, lloosing your zest for life or at least entertainment for an old cowboy?

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 30, 2017 8:52:53 PM

Mid. The feminist lawyers complained. I was asked to tone it down. Thank the feminist lawyer (formerly known as, the vile feminist lawyer).

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 31, 2017 8:25:34 AM

The history of federal gun prosecutions is putting black people in prison. I wish the academic community would investigate the blatantly racist charging practices of the federal government.

Posted by: dontask@gmail.com | Aug 1, 2017 7:18:36 AM

Doug, the political left hates guns in the hands of the law-abiding, but thinks that punishment of criminals with guns is too harsh.

This is why the Obama Admin significantly dropped gun prosecutions.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 2, 2017 10:33:17 AM

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