Black Market Accounts for Two of Three Federal Weapons Prosecutions: Report

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Gun seizure by Chicago police. Photo by Kate Gardiner via Flickr

Two out of every three weapons prosecutions filed in the U.S. district court during the first seven months of 2019 resulted from the “unlawful shipment, transfer, receipt, or possession of a firearm by a felon,”according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

TRAC’s analysis also suggests that the current rate of indicates a projected 11 percent increase in such prosecutions during Fiscal Year 2019.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Justice, TRAC counted 6,562 weapons prosecutions between October 1 and April 30—also representing an increase of nearly 69 percent over the same period five years ago.

While the predicted total of weapons prosecutions for fiscal year 2019 shows 34.3 prosecutions per one million people in the U.S., there is wide per capita variation within the country’s federal judicial districts.

According to TRAC, during the first seven months of the 2019 fiscal year, the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) had the most weapons prosecutions filed in relation to population size (6.9 times the national average), followed by Washington DC (5.8 times the national average).

Through April 2019, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) served as the lead investigative agency for weapons prosecutions, with 63.5 percent of the prosecutions attributed to it. The FBI, state and local authorities, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency were also responsible for significant portions of the prosecutions.

A report of a 2016 study by the Department of Justice showed that about 21 percent of all state and federal prisoners possessed a firearm while committing the offense for which they are in prison, yet only seven percent of them purchased the gun with their own name from a licensed dealer.

Some 43 percent of the group got their guns on the street or from an underground market and 25 percent from friends or family.

In an analysis published in February, 2018 of social networks in relation to difficulty obtaining guns, Andrew Papachristos, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, concluded that “within a network of about 127,000 people in Chicago—those who have been arrested or in contact with criminal-justice systems—on average people are within two and a half handshakes away from getting a gun.”

The estimate also shows a significant increase from the totals of 10 and 20 years ago.

Read the full TRAC report here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Yotam Ponte.

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