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More low-level gun offenses being federally prosecuted

If you are arrested for a low-level gun crime in North Carolina, did you know your case might be prosecuted in federal court? That could lead to a longer overall sentence spent in federal prison.

On average, people convicted of federal firearms offenses spend six years behind bars, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Those convicted under statutes with mandatory minimum sentences average 11 years in prison. Those average sentences are higher than you would likely receive in a state-level case.

Unfortunately for those involved in questionable weapons activity, more low-level gun crimes are being handled in the federal system than in the past. This is the result of an intentional change in priorities by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"I believe very strongly in enforcing gun laws," Sessions told reporters earlier this year. "I believe there's no value in having them on the books if they're not prosecuted."

He also believes that prosecutors should always choose the most serious charge they can prove and seek the harshest penalty available. He has instructed all federal prosecutors to do so in every case -- and last year, he directed them to crack down on weapons violations.

People convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors are prohibited from owning firearms under both state and federal law. These charges are routine and have typically been left to state prosecutors so that the feds were able to focus on more serious offenses. Not anymore.

In the three months following that directive, prosecutions for unlawful gun possession by felons rose by almost 25 percent. Between October 2016 and September 2017, three quarters of all federal gun charges involved unlawful possession or transportation of guns by felons.

Sessions and his supporters believe that a crackdown on even minor weapons offenses will bring down the violent crime rate. Opponents argue that Sessions' policy will take the place of efforts that are more likely to be successful, such as banning semi-automatic weapons and making background checks universal. Sessions has promised prosecutors will enforce background checks more strictly and has banned bump stocks, which turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones.

It will take time to tell if Sessions' initiatives will have a noticeable effect on violent crime. If you have been arrested for a weapons offense, however, you can't afford to be a statistic in a policy battle. You need an experienced criminal defense lawyer who will fight to keep your case out of federal court and to protect your rights and future.

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