Initiative emphasizes enforcing gun prohibitions based on domestic violence convictions and mental health denials
On Wednesday, Attorney General William P. Barr announced the launch of Project Guardian, a new initiative designed to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws across the country. Specifically, Project Guardian focuses on investigating, prosecuting, and preventing gun crimes.
Reducing gun violence and enforcing federal firearms laws have always been among the Department’s highest priorities. In order to develop a new and robust effort to promote and ensure public safety, the Department reviewed and adapted some of the successes of past strategies to curb gun violence. Project Guardian draws on the Department’s earlier achievements, such as the “Triggerlock” program, and it serves as a complementary effort to the success of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). In addition, the initiative emphasizes the importance of using all modern technologies available to law enforcement to promote gun crime intelligence.
“Gun crime remains a pervasive problem in too many communities across America. Today, the Department of Justice is redoubling its commitment to tackling this issue through the launch of Project Guardian,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Building on the success of past programs like Triggerlock, Project Guardian will strengthen our efforts to reduce gun violence by allowing the federal government and our state and local partners to better target offenders who use guns in crimes and those who try to buy guns illegally.”
“I have long believed that the first duty of government is to protect the safety of our citizens,” he continued. “When I was last Attorney General in 1991, the country had experienced an explosion of violent crime. Crime rates had tripled over the previous decades. Violent crime was at its peak.
“At that time, the federal government dramatically increased its focus on combatting violent crime. We launched a series of initiatives focused on drug organizations, gangs, and gun offenders.
“We also expanded our close collaboration and joint operations with our state and local partners.
“A key initiative that was launched was Project Triggerlock, which targeted for federal prosecution violent felons who illegally possessed guns. It used our very strong federal gun laws to put those people away for a long period of time, a resolution that we couldn’t get from many of the state systems. Working cooperatively with district attorneys’ offices and the police in various cities, we were able to have these cases referred to us and able to use our strong federal laws to address them.
“When I left office, we were charging approximately 1,000 offenders a month for gun violations.
“Over the next 25 years, violent crime was cut in half.
“Unfortunately, during the last two years of the Obama Administration, it started increasing again.
“But this Administration put a stop to that and reversed that trend.
“Once again, working with our state and local partners, we pushed crime rates down in 2017 and 2018.
“In 2018, violent crime went down nearly 4% nationwide. Unfortunately, crime remains too high in many of our cities and rural areas,” Barr added.
“Neighborhoods throughout the United States are becoming increasingly aware of the deep scars being left upon victims of gun violence,” said David L. Anderson has served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. “The Northern District of California is no exception. Project Guardian, announced today by Attorney General Barr, provides critical tools that this office will use to keep guns out of the hands of those who are not entitled to them and to coordinate with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners prosecutions of those who violate our gun laws.”
“ATF has a long history of strong partnerships in the law enforcement community,” said Acting Director Regina Lombardo. “Make no mistake, the women and men of ATF remain steadfast to our core mission of getting crime guns off of our streets. ATF and U.S. Attorneys nationwide will leverage these partnerships even further through enhanced community outreach initiatives and coordination with local, state, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors to cut the pipeline of crime guns from those violent individuals who seek to terrorize our communities. Project Guardian will enhance ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence, to include identifying, investigating and prosecuting those involved in the straw purchases of firearms, lying on federal firearms transaction forms, and those subject to the mental health prohibition of possessing firearms.”
Project Guardian’s implementation is based on five principles:
- Coordinated Prosecution. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement will coordinate with state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors to consider potential federal prosecution for new cases involving a defendant who: a) was arrested in possession of a firearm; b) is believed to have used a firearm in committing a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime prosecutable in federal court; or c) is suspected of actively committing violent crime(s) in the community on behalf of a criminal organization.
- Enforcing the Background Check System. United States Attorneys, in consultation with the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in their district, will create new, or review existing, guidelines for intake and prosecution of federal cases involving false statements (including lie-and-try, lie-and-buy, and straw purchasers) made during the acquisition or attempted acquisition of firearms from Federal Firearms Licensees. Particular emphasis is placed on individuals convicted of violent felonies or misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, individuals subject to protective orders, and individuals who are fugitives where the underlying offense is a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; individuals suspected of involvement in criminal organizations or of providing firearms to criminal organizations; and individuals involved in repeat denials.
- Improved Information Sharing. On a regular basis, and as often as practicable given current technical limitations, ATF will provide to state law enforcement fusion centers a report listing individuals for whom the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has issued denials, including the basis for the denial, so that state and local law enforcement can take appropriate steps under their laws.
- Coordinated Response to Mental Health Denials. Each United States Attorney will ensure that whenever there is federal case information regarding individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under the mental health prohibition, such information continues to be entered timely and accurately into the United States Attorneys’ Offices’ case-management system for prompt submission to NICS. ATF should engage in additional outreach to state and local law enforcement on how to use this denial information to better assure public safety. Additionally, United States Attorneys will consult with relevant district stakeholders to assess feasibility of adopting disruption of early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited individuals who attempt to acquire a firearm. United States Attorneys should consider, when appropriate, recommending court-ordered mental health treatment for any sentences issued to individuals prohibited based on mental health.
- Crime Gun Intelligence Coordination. Federal, state, local, and tribal prosecutors and law enforcement will work together to ensure effective use of the ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs), and all related resources, to maximize the use of modern intelligence tools and technology. These tools can greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness in identifying trigger-pullers and finding their guns, but the success depends in large part on state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners sharing ballistic evidence and firearm recovery data with the ATF.
Federal law enforcement represents only about 15% of all law enforcement resources nationwide. Therefore, partnerships with state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the communities they serve are critical to addressing gun crime. The Department recognizes that sharing information with our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners at every level will enhance public safety and provide a greater depth of resources available to address gun crime on a national level.
For more information on Project Guardian, see the Attorney General’s memorandum at: https://www.justice.gov/ag/project-guardian-memo-2019/download.
(Read Barr’s complete remarks, here).