Columbia, South Carolina — 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. U.S. Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr. announced that 183 of those cases have been brought in the District of South Carolina, and have targeted the most violent offenders in the state. Of the nearly 100 judicial districts across the country, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina is among the top ten offices for the number of defendants who received sentences of five years or more for firearms-related charges.
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.”
“Working hand-in-hand with our state and local partners, this office identifies, investigates, and prosecutes those who use firearms to commit crime,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy. “Despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic, this office has made extraordinary strides in bringing cases against the most violent offenders and those with lengthy rap sheets. This approach has allowed this office, and the ATF here in South Carolina, to lead the way in quality firearms-related prosecutions.”
Of the more than 14,200 cases charged across the country, 183 cases have been brought by the District of South Carolina in Fiscal Year 2020, announced U.S. Attorney McCoy. The charges led to the seizure of hundreds of firearms. Further, more than 50% of the defendants charged with firearms-related offenses in the District of South Carolina received sentences of at least five years or more, putting the office among the top U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country. These lengthy sentences highlight the office’s focus on the worst offenders with the most serious prior records. Such sentences also show the significant, long-term impact each case can have on the safety of affected communities.
Operation Soda City illustrates the efforts here in the District of South Carolina. The operation was a violent-crime proactive effort led by ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia, in partnership with numerous state and local agencies. Agents with Operation Soda City cultivated data to prioritize violent crime targets associated with shots fired reports and shell casings collected in Columbia. For three months in 2020, undercover ATF agents purchased guns and drugs that led to charges against at least 24 defendants and the removal 49 firearms from the streets. Of the 49 recovered firearms, 18 were stolen and five were associated with prior crimes.
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 standard ATF forms used to lawfully purchase a firearm is also a federal offense, as is unlicensed dealing in firearms and possession of certain types of illegal weapons. 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.
For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see: https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/atf-form-4473.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.