Federal prosecutors roll out new nationwide program aimed at reducing gun violence

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – On Wednesday, the Department of Justice rolled out a new nationwide program to combat gun violence.

The initiative, dubbed Project Guardian, will include better enforcement of the national gun background check system.

Talk to nearly anyone who’s had a loved one shot to death, like Ezekiel Summers, a 19-year-old killed outside an east side apartment complex in April, and those families will almost always say there are simply too many guns on the streets.

“Everybody has a gun. Back in my day, it was one guy that was a tough guy. Now everybody is the tough guy,” said Tashawnna Summers.

While unveiling Project Guardian in Memphis, Attorney General William Barr said the nationwide plan is to reduce gun violence by continuing to target the most violent gun offenders in federal court, and make a renewed commitment to crime gun intelligence centers, but there will also be a crackdown on prosecuting people who lie during background checks while buying guns.

“What you might see more of is the so called lie and buy cases. Individuals that buy guns for other individuals,” said United States Attorney Josh Minkler.

“I don't really see this initiative from the Attorney General’s office having much of an impact,” said reverend Charles Harrison with the Ten Point Coalition.

Over three years of homicide numbers by IMPD show that since 2017, gunshots make up close to 85% of all the city’s killings. Local faith leaders doubt Project Guardian will do much to get weapons out of the hands of those committing violent crimes.

“If I'm 15 years old, I'm not going to a gun store to get a gun. I'm going to buy it on the street, so we have to address the black market,” said Harrison.

Reverend David Greene with the Concerned Clergy shared the same sentiments.

"I don’t think the federal crackdown will help. Most of the crimes committed are not done by people getting background checks,” said Reverend Greene.

“We're going to respond to individuals selling the guns. Juveniles with guns, I agree it's a tremendous problem, and there needs to be a response to that, but people that are putting guns into the underground economy, those are the ones we're going to prosecute,” said U.S. Attorney Minkler.

Because federal law enforcement represents only 15% of nationwide law enforcement resources, maintaining close partnerships with the state and local level will remain a priority under Project Guardian.

According to a release by Minkler’s office, Project Guardian’s implementation is based on the following five principles:

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

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