Houston Chronicle — After Mass Shootings, Trump says Prosecutions for Firearms Offenses hit Record in 2018

Amy Sherman, PolitiFact Texas
Houston Chronicle
August 12, 2019

The claim: “Last year, we prosecuted a record number of firearms offenses, but there is so much more that we have to do.” — President Donald Trump

Trump made the statement during a White House speech addressing mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left 31 people dead.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he leaves the White House on Wednesday morning, Aug. 7, 2019. Trump is to visit Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday in an attempt to deliver a message of national unity and healing to two cities scarred by mass shootings over the weekend and where many grieving residents hold him responsible for inflaming the country’s racial divisions (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times). Photo: ANNA MONEYMAKER, STR / NYT

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly true. Trump appeared to be referring to the number of defendants charged with federal firearm offenses in 2018, which the government said that was 17 percent more than the previous record. It’s important to note, however, that the vast majority of gun crimes are handled at the state level, and that the data doesn’t speak to the seriousness of the charge.

… A couple of other things to note:

First, the vast majority of gun crimes are handled by state courts, not federal courts, said Jeffrey A. Butts, director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. So Trump is talking about a small piece of the issue.

“Over the last 20 years, gun cases in federal courts fluctuated between 7,000 and 12,000 annually,” Butts told PolitiFact. “Meanwhile, in 2017 about 175,000 people nationwide were arrested for gun charges (possession, use in a criminal act, etc.).”

Second, part of the increase in federal gun crimes is likely due to the federalization of some crime types, Butts said. That means an increase may be related to a shift in the workload of state and federal courts more than some type of crackdown on gun crimes.

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