Federal prosecutions for possession of an unlawful firearm were up 23 percent over the past three months compared to the same time period in 2016, an increase that came after Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered U.S. attorneys to prioritize firearms offenses, according to the Justice Department.
The attorney general said the increase should send a message to would-be criminals that they will face charges if they illegally carry guns.
“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,” Mr. Sessions said Friday in a statement. “That sends a clear message to criminals all over this country that if you carry a gun illegally, you will be held accountable.”
During April, May and June, federal prosecutors brought unlawful possession charges against 2,637 people, according to the Justice Department. During the same period in 2016, prosecutors working in the Obama administration charged 2,149 people.
The number of people charged with using a firearm in a crime of violence or drug trafficking also increased by 10 percent, though the department statement did not provide exact figures.
The data provided only references the number of people charged with gun-related crimes and does not include any information on the number of convictions.
The uptick in firearms charges puts the Justice Department on track to outpace the number of firearms-related charges brought in fiscal 2016, and has the potential to total the most firearms-related charges in a fiscal year since 2005, according to the Justice Department.
Relying on projections from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, the Justice Department states that it is currently on track to charge upwards of 12,600 people with firearms-related crimes this fiscal year.
News of the uptick in criminal charges comes as the president has been critical of Mr. Sessions, saying he is disappointed in his attorney general.
A series of recent attacks by Mr. Trump has led to speculation Mr. Sessions could be replaced. The attorney general has responded by calling the comments “hurtful” but generally keeping a low profile as he went about his job.