In an ongoing effort to reduce violent crime and combat the escalating issue of gun violence, federal agencies have been working to implement measures that keep firearms out of the wrong hands.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco convened a meeting with the Criminal Division, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Marshals Service, and all 93 U.S. Attorneys to discuss ongoing efforts to reduce violent crime and combat the gun violence that fuels it on June 14, 2023.
These efforts include implementing the landmark Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last June; addressing the proliferation of untraceable and unlawful “ghost guns” that threaten public safety; surging resources to federal, state, and local law enforcement partners on the front lines; and adopting other common-sense reforms that keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Focusing U.S. Attorney Resources on Gun Crimes: During the meeting, the Attorney General reiterated his February 2022 direction to U.S Attorneys’ Offices to prioritize combating gun violence.
Among other actions, the Attorney General directed U.S. Attorneys to increase prosecutorial resources devoted to cracking down on illegal firearm trafficking pipelines, to hold accountable those who possess unlawful “ghost guns,” and to pursue investigations against unlawful gun dealing.
Expanding Background Checks: BSCA expanded background checks to include juvenile criminal and mental health records and local law enforcement contacts for prospective purchasers under the age of 21.
Since the law’s enactment, the FBI has conducted more than 100,000 enhanced background checks for purchasers under the age of 21. Those checks have kept nearly 1,000 firearms out of the hands of dangerous and prohibited persons – including over 200 attempted transactions that were denied solely because of the changes made by BSCA.
The FBI continues to engage in extensive education and outreach efforts to improve the state and local partnerships necessary to the success of these enhanced background checks, including by hosting webinars attended by over 500 law enforcement agencies.
Narrowing the Boyfriend Loophole: BSCA also narrowed the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by expanding restrictions on firearm purchases by those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence to include those convicted of assault in a “dating relationship.”
In August 2022, the FBI implemented the new “dating relationship” definition into its background-check system, and in October, the DOJ of Justice (DOJ) trained federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents on the expanded restriction.
The DOJ is also continuously engaging in efforts to educate state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, and court personnel on the need to document “dating relationship” factors in police reports and court records.
Fighting Illegal Trafficking in Firearms: BSCA created new criminal offenses for unlawfully trafficking in firearms and for straw-purchasing a firearm on behalf of a prohibited person, and it expanded the definition of “engaging in the business” of dealing in firearms.
In the months since BSCA’s enactment, the DOJ held multiple trainings for federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents on these new provisions.
That upfront investment is paying dividends in the courtroom: U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country have already charged more than 100 defendants with the new BSCA offenses of firearms trafficking and straw-purchasing, and prosecutions for engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license have increased 52% over their FY2021 level.
Funding Evidence-Based Interventions: BSCA authorized a total of $1.4 billion in funding for new and existing violence-prevention and -intervention programs between 2022 and 2026.
The DOJ has awarded more than $231 million in Byrne State Crisis Intervention Program grants that will fund state crisis intervention programs, such as drug, mental health, and veterans’ treatment programs and extreme risk protection orders that will keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others.
State programs funded by the grants so far include:
- Education, training, and public-awareness campaigns on extreme risk protection order (“red flag”) laws;
- School resource officer training programs related to gun violence and youth mental health; and
- Drug, mental health, and veterans treatment courts and behavioral health responses such as crisis mobile response teams and stabilization facilities.
The DOJ has also announced the allocation of
- $40 million in supplemental STOP School Violence grants;
- $20 million in supplemental COPS School Violence Prevention Program grants; and
- $100 million in supplemental Community Violence Intervention Grants, which will go toward developing and expanding the infrastructure needed to strengthen neighborhood and community safety.
Cracking down on ghost guns: Privately made firearms (PMF) – more commonly known as “ghost guns” – are especially attractive to dangerous and prohibited persons because of their untraceable nature. In 2022, the DOJ recovered 25,785 ghost guns in domestic seizures, as well as 2,453 through international operations.
So far in 2023, the DOJ has recovered more than 10,000 PMFs domestically and 1,000 internationally. These recoveries come on the heels of newly announced Department regulations that modernize firearm definitions to curb the proliferation of ghost guns.
Enhancing Firearm and Ballistics Tracing Efforts: The DOJ continues to expand the availability and effectiveness of federal investigative resources to help state, local, and Tribal partners solve crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.
Last year, the National Tracing Center operated by the ATF conducted 622,735 traces for firearms associated with crimes, representing a 10% increase over 2021 and a 48% increase over 2017.
As of June 2023, the National Tracing Center has conducted 299,319 traces and is forecasting a total of over 675,000 traces by the end of this year.
Nearly 10,000 law enforcement agencies have now been granted access to eTrace, the online system that allows participating agencies to submit firearm traces to ATF.
Since June 2022, the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) has generated approximately 200,000 leads for law enforcement partners across the country.
Holding Gun Dealers Who Violate the Law Accountable: The DOJ has adopted an enhanced enforcement policy for federally licensed firearms dealers who willfully violate the law – for example, by refusing to run required background checks or selling guns with full awareness that they will end up in the hands of prohibited persons.
Earlier this year, the ATF published information on over 90 federal firearms license revocations.