WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch says new Justice Department figures support longtime GOP claims that the best way to fight violence with guns is not to outlaw the guns, but to prosecute criminals.

Data released Wednesday showed that as federal prosecution of gun crimes increased 68 percent from three years ago under the Bush administration, violent crimes dropped 21 percent.

"Our law enforcement's tough-on-crime approach parallels what I have always advocated: protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms and and strictly enforce our gun laws," Hatch said.

"Because of the stepped-up prosecutions, there were approximately 130,000 fewer victims of gun crime and over 980,000 fewer violent crimes in 2001-02 than there were in 1999-2000," Hatch said.

"Enacting and vigorously enforcing stiff penalties for those who commit crimes with guns deters violent crime," Hatch added.

Hatch added, "This reduction in gun violence is a direct result of the nationwide implementation of Project Safe Neighborhoods. In Utah alone last year, over 400 violent individuals were indicted under federal gun laws."