Federal weapons prosecutions continue to climb in 2018

Lee’s note: This just in from TRAC, a great data source from Syracuse University that offers free monthly reports on categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism, and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS.

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Weapons Prosecutions Continue to Climb in 2018

Number Year-to-date 8,403
Percent Change from previous year 22.5
Percent Change from 5 years ago 41.3
Percent Change from 10 years ago 18.9
Percent Change from 20 years ago 168


Table 1: Criminal Weapons Prosecutions

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first ten months of FY 2018 the government reported 8,403 new weapons prosecutions. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 10,084 for this fiscal year. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this estimate is up 22.5% over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 8,235.

The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with weapons-related offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (see Table 1).

Compared to five years ago when there were 7,136, the estimate of FY 2018 prosecutions of this type is up 41.3 percent. Prosecutions over the past year are higher than they were ten years ago. Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are up 18.9 percent from the level of 8,484 reported in 2008 and up 168 percent from the level of 3,758 reported in 1998.

The long term trend in weapons prosecutions for these matters going back to FY 1998 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. 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. To view trends month-by-month rather than year-by-year, see TRAC’s monthly report series for the latest data.

Bar chart of shortyear

Figure 1: Criminal Weapons Prosecutions over the last 20 years

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Figure 2: Prosecutions by Investigative Agency

Leading Investigative Agencies

The lead investigative agency for weapons prosecutions through July 2018 was “Justice – Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (formerly Treasury)” accounting for 63.8 percent of prosecutions referred.

As shown in Figure 2, additional agencies with substantial numbers of weapons referrals were: Justice – Federal Bureau of Investigation (12.9%), “Other – State/Local Authorities” (10.1%), “Justice – Drug Enforcement Administration” (3.4%), “Homeland Security – Immigration and Customs Enforcement” (2.8%).

Top Ranked Lead Charges

Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of weapons matters filed in U.S. District Court during the first ten months of FY 2018.

Lead Charge Count Rank 1 yr ago 5 yrs ago 10 yrs ago 20 yrs ago
18 USC 922 – Firearms; Unlawful acts 6,682 1 1 1 1 1
18 USC 924 – Firearms; Penalties 338 2 2 2 2 2
21 USC 841 – Drug Abuse Prevention & Control-Prohibited acts A 288 3 4 5 3 5
18 USC 1951 – Hobbs Act 286 4 3 3 4 6
Other US Code Section 201 5 8 16 18 12
21 USC 846 – Attempt and conspiracy 120 6 6 6 6 7
26 USC 5861 – Tax on Making Firearms – Prohibited acts 89 7 5 4 5 4
18 USC 554 – Smuggling goods from the United States 84 8 7 8 23
18 USC 2119 – Carjacking 59 9 10 11 9 9
18 USC 371 – Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US 52 10 9 7 7 8


Table 2: Top charges filed

  • “Firearms; Unlawful acts” (Title 18 U.S.C Section 922) was the most frequent recorded lead charge. Title 18 U.S.C Section 922 was ranked 1st a year ago, while it was the 1st most frequently invoked five years ago. It was ranked 1st ten years ago and 1st twenty years ago.
  • Ranked 2nd in frequency was the lead charge “Firearms; Penalties” under Title 18 U.S.C Section 924. Title 18 U.S.C Section 924 was ranked 2nd a year ago, while it was the 2ndmost frequently invoked five years ago. It was ranked 2nd ten years ago and 2nd twenty years ago.
  • Ranked 3rd was “Drug Abuse Prevention & Control-Prohibited acts A” under Title 21 U.S.C Section 841. Title 21 U.S.C Section 841 was ranked 4th a year ago, while it was the 5thmost frequently invoked five years ago. It was ranked 3rd ten years ago and 5th twenty years ago.

Again among the top ten lead charges, the one showing the sharpest projected decline in prosecutions compared to one year ago—down -12  percent—was “Firearms; Penalties ” (Title 18 U.S.C Section 924 ). This was the same statute that had the largest projected decrease—-30%—when compared with five years ago.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

During FY 2017 the Justice Department said the government obtained 25.5 weapons prosecutions for every one million people in the United States. If pace during the first ten months of FY 2018 continues at the same rate, weapons prosecutions for one million people in the United States this year will be 31.2 . Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of weapons prosecutions in each of the nation’s ninety-four federal judicial districts

Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago 10yrs ago 20yrs ago
Mo, E 230 562 1 3 7 6 11
Ala, S 193 136 2 1 1 3 38
Tenn, W 175 229 3 2 2 1 21
Ala, M 99 95 4 8 59 12 82
Ark, E 97 133 5 16 35 19 17
Iowa, N 96 106 6 11 20 42 45
Mo, W 91 240 7 6 3 11 49
Alaska 87 52 8 12 21 39 46
Miss, S 81 127 9 37 73 26 33
D. C. 76 43 10 27 11 53 1


Table 3: Top 10 districts (per one million people)

  • The Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis)—with 230.13 prosecutions as compared with 31.2 prosecutions per one million people in the United States—was the most active through July 2018. The Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) was ranked 3rd a year ago, while it was ranked 7th five years ago. The district’s position ten years ago was 6th and 11th twenty years ago.
  • The Southern District of Alabama (Mobile) ranked 2nd. The Southern District of Alabama (Mobile) was ranked 1st a year ago as well as five years ago. The district’s position ten years ago was 3rd and 38th twenty years ago.
  • The Western District of Tennessee (Memphis) now ranks 3rd. The Western District of Tennessee (Memphis) was ranked 2nd a year ago as well as five years ago. The district’s position ten years ago was 1st and 21st twenty years ago.

Recent entries to the top 10 list were Northern District of Iowa (Cedar Rapids), Alaska, Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock), Washington, D.C. (Washington) and Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson).

TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.

Report date: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018, TRAC Reports, Inc.
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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.