Federal prosecutions for weapons law violations have dropped to their lowest levels since 2001, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The decline began in 2005 during President George W. Bush’s second term and continued through 2011, during President Barack Obama’s first term. Despite a slight uptick in 2012, the prosecution numbers likely will provide ammunition for groups fighting attempts to add new guns laws in response to several high-profile mass shootings.
A central argument among those opposed to laws such as bans on certain types of weapons and ammunition magazines is that federal agencies have not vigorously enforced existing gun laws.
Most federal weapons cases are filed under various parts of Section 922 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. That section covers everything from protocols regulating firearms sales and meant to prevent gun trafficking, to background checks meant to keep firearms from criminals, drug addicts and the insane.
People who lie on background forms required to purchase some firearms from licensed dealers can be prosecuted under Section 922, for example.
Federal prosecutors working in all 90 U.S. Judicial Districts during 2012 filed 6,780 cases with lead charges of “18 USC 922-Firearms Unlawful Acts,” according to the records access clearinghouse. That was up 4.6 percent from the 6,483 cases filed under 922 in 2011, according to the clearinghouse.
The number was down substantially from 2004, the peak year in the past 20 years, when about 8,500 cases were filed, however, according to the clearinghouse.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, whose office covers Galveston County and files cases in the federal district court in Galveston, filed 207 cases under Section 922 during 2012, down 19.8 percent from 258 cases in 2011, according to a clearinghouse report.
Prosecutors in that office in 2012 filed more cases than were filed in all but four of the last 20 years, however. The 258 cases filed in 2011 represented the greatest number of Section 922 cases filed in the Southern District since 1992, according to the clearinghouse reports.
Per capita rates
As of January 2011, federal prosecutors were filing, on average, about seven weapons cases per million U.S. residents, according to the clearinghouse.
The U.S. attorney’s office for Southern District of Alabama, whose jurisdiction includes Mobile, was the most active, filing 28 cases in January for a rate of 33 per million residents, according to the clearinghouse.
U.S. attorneys offices in Tennessee, Wyoming, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Mississippi rounded out the top-10 most active with prosecution rates ranging from about 30 per million to a little more than 17 per million.
Meanwhile, some of the least active offices were in areas with some of the highest firearms murder rates, according to comparison of numbers from the clearinghouse and the FBI’s Universal Crime Reporting System.
U.S. attorneys offices covering Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Boston and Pittsburgh were among the least active, filing between 1.1 and 2.7 cases per million residents in January 2011, according to the clearinghouse.
About the data
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse maintains databases of information obtained from federal agencies through the Freedom of Information Act. Its reports are based on case-by-case analysis of the latest information available from those agencies.
The reports cited in this article were compiled from information obtained from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.
The Daily News purchased the reports from the clearinghouse for this article.