Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks on the Biden Administration’s Gun Crime Prevention Strategy

4 months ago
AMERICA NEWS NOW

Remarks as Delivered

Good afternoon, Mr. President. It’s good to be here with you, with local elected and community leaders, and with representatives of law enforcement.

Protecting our communities from violent crime is a top priority for the Department of Justice, and one of our most important responsibilities. I am glad the President brought us together today to discuss a subject of such importance to the public we serve.   

As the participants in today’s roundtable have noted, the increase in violent crime in 2020 and early 2021 is deeply troubling.

That is why, last month, the Justice Department launched a comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy. This strategy is built around four principles:

(1) setting strategic enforcement priorities;               

(2) fostering trust with and earning legitimacy in our communities;

(3) investing in community-based prevention and intervention programs; and

(4) measuring the results of these efforts through a decrease in violent crime – not merely by arrests and convictions as if they were ends in themselves. 

Now, we know that the lion’s share of violent crime reduction work is shouldered by our state, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement partners. Core to our strategy is targeted support of the critical work that you will be doing in the weeks and months ahead.  

Every one of our U.S. Attorney’s Offices is working with its local partners to establish an immediate plan to address the spike in violent crime that typically occurs during the summer. And the law enforcement components of the department are making enhanced resources available to help prevent and disrupt violent crime and to focus on the most dangerous, most violent offenders.

The department is also strengthening our Project Safe Neighborhoods, our cornerstone initiative that brings together law enforcement and community stakeholders to develop solutions to pressing violent crime problems. Community-led efforts are vital to preventing violence before it occurs. 

The Justice Department has available over $1 billion in funding through over a dozen grant programs that can be used to support evidence-based community violence intervention strategies. And I want to say that’s what I found particularly useful in our discussion just a few minutes ago, was the fact that there are such evidence-based programs available, and I’m hoping you will get together with us so that we can spread those across the country as well as, of course, funding your own.

A properly functioning criminal justice system is essential to our efforts as well. The department has grant funding available to help cities resume court operations and services that were curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes funding for technology and equipment, for courts to address the backlog of cases and enhance access to justice.

We know that an effective violent crime reduction strategy must also address the illegal trafficking of firearms and focus on keeping guns out of the wrong hands. And so, the department is delivering on promises we made here at the White House in April. On May 7, we issued a proposed rule to help address the proliferation of “ghost guns.” On June 7, we issued a proposed rule to clarify that pistols equipped with certain stabilizing braces are subject to the same statutory restrictions as easily concealable short-barreled rifles. And on the same day, the department published model “extreme risk protection order” legislation for states to consider as they craft their own laws to reduce gun violence.                

We are now taking further steps. First, we will hold gun dealers that break the rules accountable for their actions. Most federally licensed firearms dealers operate legally in selling guns to individuals who have passed background checks. But those dealers that willfully violate the law increase the risk that guns will fall into the wrong hands.

Absent extraordinary circumstances, ATF will initiate proceedings to revoke the licenses of dealers that willfully violate the law by:

(1) failing to conduct required background checks;   

(2) falsifying records;

(3) failing to respond to trace requests;

(4) refusing to permit ATF to conduct inspections; or

(5) transferring firearms to persons who are prohibited from owning them.

Second, we are seeking funding to increase ATF’s dealer inspection capacity and improve its effectiveness. ATF has very limited inspection resources. The President’s fiscal 2022 budget requests resources to add inspection positions in every field division. The effectiveness of the enforcement program depends on the ability to identify and focus on those dealers that pose the greatest risk to public safety.

Starting today, ATF will make clear to investigators in every field division that, as they prioritize inspections, they must consider the extent to which firearms sold by a dealer are later used in criminal activity.

Third, we will improve information sharing with state, local, Tribal, and territorial partners to help bring more intelligence and law enforcement resources to bear, as well as with the public to increase our own accountability.

Today, ATF has a point of contact in every field division to receive information from mayors, police chiefs, and other local leaders about firearms dealers they believe are acting unlawfully. And starting next month, ATF will begin sharing inspection data with the 16 states that license or regulate firearms dealers themselves. Also beginning next month, ATF will publicly post information about inspection frequency and outcomes disaggregated by field division, providing for enhanced transparency and accountability.

Fourth, we are launching a concerted effort to crack down on gun traffickers. Yesterday, the department announced that it will establish five new cross-jurisdictional law enforcement strike forces within the next 30 days. The strike forces will focus on addressing significant firearms trafficking corridors that fuel violence in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C., as well as in cities and towns along the way.

The Justice Department’s violent crime reduction strategy, and our initiatives to stem the rising tide of illegal guns, will save lives. But, these steps alone will not solve the problem of violent crime. Success depends on all of us joining together – those of you in this room, the many like you across the country who are working to keep their communities safe, and the people of our communities themselves.

I would now like to introduce President Biden, who has emphasized the importance of this issue, and who has my gratitude for gathering us together today.