DOJ Charges More Than 14,200 Defendants With Firearms-Related Crimes in FY20 | USAO-VT

October 13, 2020– Today, the Department of Justice announced it has charged more than 14,200 defendants with firearms-related crimes during Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on the criminal justice process. These cases have been a Department priority since November 2019 when Attorney General William P. Barr announced his commitment to investigating, prosecuting, and combatting gun crimes as a critical part of the Department’s anti-violent crime strategy. These firearms-related charges are the result of the critical law enforcement partnership between United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, led by Acting Director Regina Lombardo, who has made firearms-related investigations a priority. 

“The number one priority of government is to keep its citizens safe,” said Attorney General Barr. “By preventing firearms from falling into the hands of individuals who are prohibited from having them, we can stop violent crime before it happens. Violating federal firearms laws is a serious crime and offenders face serious consequences.  The Department of Justice is committed to investigating and prosecuting individuals who illegally buy, sell, use, or possess firearms. Reducing gun violence requires a coordinated effort, and we could not have charged more than 14,000 individuals with firearms-related crimes without the hard work of the dedicated law enforcement professionals at the ATF, our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, and especially all of our state and local law enforcement partners.” 

“Protecting the public from violent crime involving firearms is at the core of ATF’s mission,” commented ATF Acting Director Regina Lombardo.  “Every day the men and women of ATF pursue and investigate those who use firearms to commit violent crimes in our communities, many of whom are prohibited from possessing firearms from previous convictions.  ATF, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the nation, is committed to bringing these offenders to justice for their egregious and violent criminal acts.”

United States Attorney Christina E. Nolan noted that, of the more than 14,200 cases charged nationally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont, one of the smallest in the country, brought at least 27 firearms-related prosecutions in FY 2020, representing nearly 25% of the office’s criminal case load, notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic.  U.S. Attorney Nolan emphasized that ten of these firearms prosecutions involved a nexus to domestic violence.  “Whether the defendant was an individual subject to a restraining order, an individual with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, a person whose prohibited status resulted from a domestic violence-related felony conviction, or an individual who attempted to obtain a firearm illegally while under indictment for a crime of domestic violence, over the past year my Office has aggressively applied the federal firearms laws to combat domestic violence in our communities.  Working with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate and prosecute gun crimes as part of our continuing effort to reduce violent crime in Vermont.”  
Of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s gun prosecutions in FY 2020, six related to firearms possession by convicted felons; six involved possession of firearms by unlawful users of controlled substances; four involved possession of firearms by individuals subject to a restraining order; two involved possession of firearms by individuals convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; and one involved possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number.  In addition, five defendants were charged with making false statements in connection with the acquisition or attempted acquisition of a firearm from a federally licensed firearm dealer.  

Eight defendants were charged with firearms offenses stemming from their possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking.  These cases include the prosecutions of individuals alleged to have been involved in the April 16, 2019 shooting death of Benzel Hampton in Burlington’s Old North End, as well as individuals alleged to have been involved in the October 14, 2018 shooting death of Michael Pimental near Concord, Vermont. 

Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon, illegal alien, or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime.  It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to illegally purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on an ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, is also a federal offense.  The Department is committed to prosecuting these firearms offenses as well as using all modern technologies available to law enforcement such as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, known as NIBIN, to promote gun crime intelligence. Keeping illegal firearms out of the hands of violent criminals will continue to be a priority of the Department of Justice and we will use all appropriate, available means to keep the law abiding people of this country safe from gun crime.  

This effort is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws.  Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting firearm use and possession crimes; prioritizes prosecuting persons who make false statements when attempting to obtain firearms; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concerning persons who attempt to obtain firearms illegally; coordinates responses to persons prevented from obtaining firearms for mental health reasons; and ensures the use of modern intelligence tools and technology to focus on the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.  

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