In the 1990s and 2000s, the Department of Justice played a critical role in halting the violence plaguing American cities. Federal prosecutors used programs like Operation Ceasefire and Project Exile to target convicted criminals caught with guns for long prison sentences, helping to initiate the great American crime decline. Now, with cities once again beset by rising violent crime, it’s a good time to check on the DOJ’s activity. A new report from researchers at Syracuse University does just that, tracking and ranking 90 federal districts based on prosecutions of weapons offenses—generally, convicted criminals caught with guns. The results are revealing.
First, some good news. One of the federal districts most in need of federal firearms prosecutions is the Eastern District of Missouri, home to the City of St. Louis. After more than six years under the calamitous leadership of chief prosecutor Kimberly Gardner, St. Louis has recorded the highest murder rate in the United States. Sensing the need for order, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri now ranks first in all districts for federal weapons convictions. It’s heartening to see that someone understands that removing gun-toting felons from the streets can help reduce murders. The strategy is having some success: homicide numbers in St. Louis are falling. With the feds trying to ride to the rescue, it’s no surprise that Missouri’s attorney general is seeking to remove Gardner, the architect of chaos in St. Louis, from office.
Moreover, many other federal prosecutors’ offices are delivering a substantial number of convictions against gun-wielding felons. The telling indicator is the location of those federal districts. The states with the most federal gun convictions after Missouri are Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Iowa, Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia, Alaska, and Utah. Notably, the big-city enclaves of the East and West Coasts are missing from that tally.
And that’s where the bad news comes in. If it makes sense for federal prosecutors in St. Louis to try to save citizens from rampant violence, then the DOJ’s outposts in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Portland, and Seattle should also be pursuing a high level of prosecutions of firearm offenders. The United States Attorney’s Office in each district is merely a franchise of the DOJ, so surely someone at Main Justice must have instructed those offices to start cracking down on armed felons—right?
Unfortunately, it appears that progressive de-prosecution philosophies have infected the chief federal prosecutors in many of the most crime-ridden American cities. Portland set a new record for homicides in 2022, but the federal prosecutors in that district ranked just 73rd out of the 90 measured districts for convicting criminals with guns. The federal districts covering Chicago and Philadelphia—cities experiencing skyrocketing homicide rates in recent years under radical chief prosecutors Kim Foxx and Larry Krasner, respectively—ranked 71st and 77th for convicting criminals with guns in federal cases. The increasingly disorderly jurisdictions of Manhattan (80th), Los Angeles (83rd), and San Francisco (87th) are housed within federal districts that trail even Chicago and Philadelphia on this metric. Finally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office covering Seattle, where both violence and property crime have soared since the city’s infamous “summer of love” in 2020, ranked 89th for federal firearms convictions. It seems that urban voters did not just elect progressive district attorneys but also somehow managed to ensure the appointment of progressive chief federal prosecutors.
Even at the federal level, it appears that common-sense law enforcement is migrating away from the most liberal states and localities. California, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania lead the list of areas shedding residents. It’s no wonder that citizens are voting with their feet and fleeing places where neither local nor federal prosecutors seem willing to protect them from violent felons.
President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland should start concentrating on the real issue endangering American citizens of all races: violent crime in our cities, particularly cities led by local prosecutors who won’t prosecute. It is time for the Department of Justice to take up its traditional role of sword and shield, protecting the residents of these cities from those who would do them harm.