Justice Department Touts Rise in Gun Crime Charges

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Attorney General Jeff Sessions Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday announced a 23 percent leap in federal charges against defendants illegally possessing firearms, a toughened approach in line with Trump administration priorities.

“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,” Sessions said. “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.”

In March, following President Trump’s February memo setting up a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, Sessions directed prosecutors to make firearms offenses a new priority.

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From April to June, the number of defendants charged with such offenses rose 23 percent over the same period in 2016, and the number of defendants charged with using a firearm in violent crimes of drug trafficking rose 10 percent.

That, Justice calculated, puts the department on pace in fiscal 2017 to charge 12,626 defendants with these firearms crimes, the most since 2005. 

Sessions’ release came the same day Trump addressed a gathering of law enforcement professionals on Long Island about the threat of the MS-13 gang. The president acknowledged the anti-crime efforts of his Homeland Security Department and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., but not Sessions, whom he has been criticizing on Twitter.

Sessions’ announcement did draw praise from Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. Cox commended Sessions and Trump “for understanding that prosecuting violent criminals and protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners are not mutually exclusive ideas. After suffering an all-time low during the Obama administration, federal prosecutions of illegal firearm possession are now being taken seriously.”  

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