Federal firearms charges on the rise as Nashville cracks down on gun crime

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Like most major cities, Nashville has seen its fair share of violent crime.

In 2017, the homicide rate spiked, the highest in 20 years. Thankfully, the violence is on its way back down as prosecutors and police fight gun crime with science and technology. A lot of the progress is thanks to Project Safe Nashville, the city’s largest-ever inter-agency effort to fight gun crime.

The program launched in January of 2019.

But progress was being made months before that. Two years ago, almost to this day, Don Cochran was appointed as the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. His goal was simply put, but not so simple to enact.

“My single priority was helping the Metro Nashville Police Department with violent crime and helping some of the citizens in some of the neighborhoods that are victimized by violent criminals and doing everything we could to help them,” said Cochran.

His efforts over the last two years are paying off. Nashville’s homicide rate dropped 20% in 2018 and another 20% so far this year. ​

Cochran notes that this progress is more than just a statistic.

“To me a 20% reduction year after year isn’t just a number it correlates to something like 20 mothers each year who don’t have to bury their child due to handgun violence so that’s real progress,” said Cochran.

Prosecutors remain aggressive as felon in possession charges are on the rise. In the first year Cochran took over, prosecutions doubled– from 90 federal offenders charged to 180 federal offenders charged.

This year, Cochran’s office is on track to exceed 200 defendants charged with federal firearms violations. ​

“We like to charge the people who have displayed a real potential for violence and we do that by looking at their past record,” said Cochran.

Many of these charges are made possible by Metro police’s seven-member Crime Gun Unit, which uses national ballistic science to analyze shell casings from weapons fired in local crimes and then connect those casings to other crimes in the area.

They’re investigating patterns with link analysis charts (seen below.) You’ll see how the same gun and its shell casings are used in multiple crimes, many, escalating overtime. Some of the guns have been recovered, many have not. ​

“We have seen a number of charges coming out of the unit, I would point you to a complaint we filed recently against an individual named Jeffrey Ragland who was part of a shooting network in north Nashville that in one day fired a total of 81 rounds between all the guns used in two altercations both of them within a block of elementary schools,” said Cochran, adding these are the guys he wants off Nashville’s streets.

“I wish I could put myself out of business I doubt itll ever happen but I wish it would.”

Cochran admits stolen guns are a real problem in Nashville. “Of the guns where we do know where they came from, a significant percentage were stolen,” said Cochran.

Cochran said one way to prevent stolen guns is if people simply lock their cars and be responsible gun owners.

News 2 digs deeper into the disturbing trend of stolen guns, the impact on the area and the effect on crime rates. Watch our special reports “Guns of Nashville” all day Thursday in every newscast. Plus, stay tuned for a half-hour special Sunday, September 22 at 4:30 p.m. Click here for more.

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