Federal gun prosecutions have increased 23 percent in the three months following a memo by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that directed federal prosecutors to focus on gun crimes, the Department of Justice announced Friday morning.

During the April to June timeframe, the Justice Department says the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm increased from 2,149 in 2016 to 2,637 in 2017.

In a statement, Sessions noted that 27 of the country's 35 biggest cities are experiencing a rise in violent crime.

"Law abiding people in some of these communities are living in fear, as they see families torn apart and young lives cut short by gangs and drug traffickers. Following President Trump's Executive Order to focus on reducing crime, I directed federal prosecutors to prioritize taking illegal guns off of our streets, and as a result, we are now prosecuting hundreds more firearms defendants," Sessions said.

The increase in charges, Sessions said, "sends a clear message to criminals all over this country that if you carry a gun illegally, you will be held accountable."

The number of defendants charged with violent use of a firearm or using a firearm in the midst of drug trafficking also increased by 10 percent, the Justice Department said.

The Executive Office for United States Attorneys predicts that in fiscal 2017, the Justice Department is on pace to charge 12,626 defendants with the aforementioned firearms crimes, which would be the most federal firearms cases since 2005.