New initiative to reduce violent crime, enforce firearms laws

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WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new initiative has been launched to reduce violent crime and enforce federal firearms laws in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The initiative is called Project Guardian-DMV, and it builds on a recently announced U.S. Department of Justice effort.

“Gun crime remains a pervasive problem in too many communities across American,” said U.S. Attorney General William Barr in announcing the national effort. “The Department of Justice is redoubling its commitment to tackling this issue through the launch of Project Guardian. 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.”

The Virginia initiative localizes the national effort to the tri-state region and expands on a current partnership between the U.S. Attorney's Officers in D.C. and the Eastern District of Virginia, the ATF, and the Metro Police Department to include the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland and the Western District of Virginia and the Virginia State Police.

“Through this partnership, we hope to stanch the flow of illegal guns from the Commonwealth of Virginia to Washington, Baltimore and other cities in the Northeast, where too often, they are used to commit violent crimes,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Thomas Cullen. “We will work closely with our U.S. attorney partners, the ATF, the MPD, and the Virginia State Police to identify individuals and groups in Western Virginia engaged in this deadly enterprise and put them in federal prison.”

The national Project Guardian is acting as a complement to the success of Project Safe neighborhoods, according to the release. It also emphasizes the importance of using all modern technologies available to law enforcement to promote gun crime intelligence.

“Straw purchasers and firearms traffickers do more than commit paperwork violations or illegally sell a firearm. They knowingly put firearms in the hands of people who should not have them, including violent offenders,” said Ashan M. Benedict, the Special Agent in Charge of ATF's Washington Field Division. “These traffickers have no regard for the safety of D.C., Maryland and Virginia communities. As part of Project Guardian, ATF will continue to work alongside our local, state and federal law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney's Officers to ensure anyone committing these crimes is held accountable.”

The release says Project Guardian's national and DMV iterations are based on five principles.

First is coordinated prosecution with federal prosecutors and law enforcement working together. Prosecutors will consider potential federal cases in cases involving someone who was arrested in the possession of a firearm, who is believed to have used a firearm in the commission of violence or drug trafficking at a federal level, or who is suspected of actively committing violent crimes on behalf of a criminal organization.

Second is enforcing the background check system, through which U.S. Attorneys will work with the ATF to create new or review existing guidelines for federal cases involving false statements, such as lie-and-try, lie-and-buy and straw purchasers, that are made during the acquisition or an attempted acquisition of firearms from Federal Firearms Licensees.

Third involves improved information sharing with the ATF providing state law enforcement centers reports listing people for whom the national Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, has issued denials and the basis for that denial so that state and local law enforcement agencies can take appropriate measures within their given laws.

Fourth is a coordinated response to mental health denials, in which each U.S. Attorney will ensure that whenever there is federal case information on people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under mental health prohibitions, that information will be entered into NICS in a timely manner and accurately.

Fifth, there will be crime gun intelligence coordination with prosecutors on all levels and law enforcement agencies working together to ensure effective use of the ATF's Crime Gun Intelligence Centers and all of their related resources to maximize the use of modern intelligence tools and technology to enhance the speed and effectiveness in identifying “trigger-pullers” and finding their guns. However, the success of this depends on law enforcement agencies sharing ballistic information and firearm recovery data with the ATF.

The release says particular emphasis will be put on people who have been convicted of violent felonies or misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, people who are subject to protective orders, and people who are fugitives where the underlying offense involves domestic violence, people suspected of involvement in criminal organizations or of providing firearms to criminal organizations, and people who have repeatedly been denied the ability to purchase a gun.

U.S. Attorney's will also work with relevant stakeholders to assess the feasibility of early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited people who attempt to buy a gun.

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