We have begun to stem the tide of gun violence that afflicts this country. Between 1992 and 1998, violent crime with firearms fell 35 percent and gun-related homicides declined 36 percent. According to national crime victimization surveys, the number of crimes committed with handguns fell over 50 percent between 1993 and 1998-more than twice the drop in other violent crimes. Firearms deaths of children declined 10 percent between 1997 and 1998 alone. Nevertheless, we are a long way from ridding America of the scourge of firearms violence. As a nation, we can and must do much more.
President Clinton's Directive of March 20, 1999
In response to the continuing problem of gun violence, on March 20, 1999, President Clinton called for the development of a National Integrated Firearms Violence Reduction Strategy (the National Strategy). The President directed the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General to build upon the proven tactics and innovative approaches that have been working to reduce gun violence all across this country in recent years. Because gun violence issues differ in each community and no single program or approach will be right for every community, the President asked that the Attorney General and the Treasury Secretary consult closely with U.S. Attorneys and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Field Division Directors, as well as other federal, state, and local law enforcement, elected officials, and other leaders in formulating the National Strategy. This document presents what we have done, and what more we must do, to combat firearms crime and violence.
Gun Violence: A National Tragedy
Despite significant progress, gun violence remains a national tragedy. In 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 30,708 people died from gun-related injuries in this country, and over one-third of a million violent crimes were committed with firearms. Every day, on average, 84 people-including 10 children-are shot and killed in the United States. In the last two years alone, more American civilians died from gunfire than all of the American soldiers killed during the nine years of the Vietnam War. And for each fatal firearms injury, there were nearly three non-fatal injuries.
The carnage caused by guns in the United States is unique among developed nations. Children under age 15 are murdered with guns in our country at a rate 16 times higher than in the 25 other wealthiest industrialized countries combined. Firearms injuries are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, and a leading cause of injury-related death. The economic impact of this violence is staggering. The medical costs of gun injuries have been estimated to exceed $2 billion each year, and work loss costs have been estimated at $20 billion or more per year.
In the last few years, a succession of widely-reported shootings seared the national consciousness. Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon-these names became part of a litany of public grief and outrage that grew to unprecedented proportions after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April of 1999. America has recently witnessed multiple shootings at schools in Conyers, Georgia, and Muskogee County, Oklahoma; at a Jewish Community Center Day Camp in Los Angeles, California; at workplaces in Atlanta, Georgia, Seattle, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii; at an apartment complex in Lincoln Park, Michigan; at a recreation center in Peoria, Arizona; at a Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; outside two fast-food restaurants inPittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. A one man shooting rampage, apparently motivated by racial hatred, occurred in Illinois and Indiana, and a series of gun murders precipitated by domestic violence terrorized communities in Maryland. In February of last year, a 6-year-old boy brought a handgun to school and shot and killed his classmate, a 6-year-old girl. Last April, a 16-year-old shot seven other children at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. And in last June, a 13-year-old honor student shot and killed a Florida middle school teacher. Clearly, despite the overall decrease in gun crime and violence in recent years, the level of gun violence in our society remains unacceptably high.
Aggressively Attacking Gun Violence
Since 1993, the Clinton Administration has used a comprehensive approach to stop violent crime that addresses both the causes and consequences of crime. We have:
Applying this approach specifically to gun violence, we have actively promoted federal, state, and local efforts to address each link in the chain of gun violence--illegal sale, acquisition, possession, and use of firearms. And we have sought to address both the underlying causes of gun violence, and its consequences. We have recognized that to reduce gun violence, we must not only effectively punish the armed offender, but we must do more to prevent gun crimes in the first place by addressing the ease with which criminals and unauthorized juveniles get guns.
Fundamentals of the National Strategy
To help develop the National Strategy, the Attorney General and the Treasury Secretary asked the U.S. Attorneys and ATF Field Division Directors jointly to create coordinated local gun violence reduction strategies in each of the federal judicial districts across the United States. These district plans, summarized in Appendix A, embody ongoing efforts, innovative initiatives, and best practices, and represent a cornerstone of our National Strategy. They have been developed to respond to the particular gun violence problems facing local communities, and are critical to our efforts to further reduce gun crime.
Each of the district plans, like the overarching National Strategy of which they are a part, involves extensive collaboration between federal, state and local criminal justice agencies to combat and prevent gun crime and violence. Each uses information and technology to identify and understand particular gun violence problems and target resources for greatest impact. And each relies on a comprehensive approach that attacks all the components of gun violence--illegal sale, acquisition, possession, and use of firearms--and addresses the needs of gun violence victims.
Vigorous law enforcement is an essential part of every district plan. Each of the districts has worked to identify the specific gun violence problems in its community, and has developed a strategy to apply the available legal tools most effectively to reduce those problems. Gun violence in many American communities is intimately tied to drug trafficking or gang activity. In other communities, gun violence is primarily connected to domestic violence. The districts have developed customized approaches to tackle these pervasive problems, including interventions designed to punish and deter gang members who illegally possess firearms or use them in criminal activities, shut down drug traffickers, and use tough federal laws prohibiting gun possession by those convicted of domestic violence or subject to domestic violence restraining orders to prevent gun violence by domestic abusers.
Through strategic collaboration between law enforcement authorities, the districts use the most appropriate law--federal, state or local--to assure that gun criminals are effectively punished and that gun crime is reduced. Jurisdictions with tough state laws and an aggressive approach to prosecutions allow federal prosecutions to focus on firearms crimes that are uniquely federal, or to fill gaps in state law to ensure that violent criminals face the toughest prosecutions and sentences available. In other jurisdictions, where state law is inadequate or state enforcement is weak, federal prosecutions of offenses for which there is overlapping federal and state jurisdiction may be necessary to target violent individuals, at least until state laws or enforcement efforts become more rigorous. In many jurisdictions, intensive federal prosecution is being used to galvanize the community's efforts to address violent gun crime. Each district is committed to continuing its focus on gun crime and violence and will continually adjust its strategy in light of the impact of its enforcement and prevention efforts and the changing nature of firearms-related violence in its communities.
The National Strategy
Guided by the practices and principles embodied in the district plans, and by our experience in fighting crime and reducing gun violence over the last eight years, our National Strategy lays out an aggressive and integrated six-part approach to continue and expand our fight against firearms violence. The Strategy builds on the many anti-crime initiatives that we have developed and supported throughout this Administration, and continues our commitment to vigorously enforce existing federal firearms laws. It includes vigorous enforcement against armed criminals, and against the criminal behind the armed criminal-the firearms trafficker-and identifies important measures to enhance enforcement. It acknowledges the central role that state and local law enforcement play in the fight against violent crime in America, and combines effective enforcement with potent intervention and prevention.
Many of the elements of our National Strategy rely heavily upon the efforts of law enforcement, but as the Strategy makes clear, all parts of our society must help reduce gun crime and violence. Gun owners, gun makers, parents, concerned citizens, and the Congress all have important roles to play, and our Strategy identifies specific ways in which their participation is critical to the final success of this endeavor.
Specifically, the National Strategy calls for us to work together to:
(1) vigorously investigate and prosecute those who illegally possess or misuse guns to commit crimes;A few of the most significant measures called for in our National Strategy are described below, along with the increased federal funding that will be required to achieve these goals. To support the National Strategy, the President's gun enforcement budget sought $280 million for FY 2001-- the largest national gun enforcement initiative in U.S. history.
(2) break the cycle of violence that grips many in our communities through innovative, data-driven initiatives that enforce all available laws to deter and punish violent offenders, and provide chronic violent offenders and at-risk individuals and their families with social services, treatment, education and employment programs, and incentives and opportunities to live nonviolent, law-abiding lives;
(3) enforce all available regulatory and criminal laws to combat illegal trafficking of firearms and keep guns out of the wrong hands;
(4) invest in information systems and technology that make firearms-related law enforcement significantly more productive;
(5) prevent gun accidents and suicides, including through support for national and local media and public education campaigns to inform parents, and gun owners about safe gun handling and storage and the federal gun laws; and
(6) enact new laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands, crack down on illegal trafficking in guns, and prevent gun accidents and suicides, and impose tougher penalties on those who violate federal firearms laws.
Intensive Prosecution of Armed Criminals. The district plans all involve intensive investigation and prosecution efforts to combat firearms crime. Where appropriate, the National Strategy calls for heightened federal-state collaborative enforcement of gun laws through programs such as Richmond, Virginia's Project Exile, which used vigorous enforcement of the federal firearms laws and a public education campaign to deter violent felons from possessing guns on the streets of Richmond, contributing to a 30 percent reduction in homicides between 1997 and 1998.
To enhance and support our efforts to strictly enforce our firearms laws, the Administration's FY 2001 budget sought $15 million to hire 100 additional federal prosecutors and support staff, and $150 million to provide grants to state and local authorities to hire 1,000 local prosecutors to prosecute gun-related crime. It also sought funding for 300 new ATF agents.
Targeted Deterrence. One of the most promising and innovative new enforcement strategies in recent years is "targeted deterrence," developed in Boston as part of Operation Ceasefire. This approach led to a 73 percent decline inmurders in Boston between 1995 and 1999, and has produced similar reductions in several other communities.
Targeted deterrence is a data-driven, problem-solving, collaborative approach that intervenes with chronic violent offenders and at-risk individuals to deter further violence. It ensures swift, certain, and severe punishment of perpetrators of gun or other serious violence. By "pulling" a wide variety of "levers" available to different law enforcement agencies, targeted deterrence provides incentives and opportunities for chronic offenders and at-risk individuals to live law-abiding, nonviolent lives.
Our National Strategy calls for expanding targeted deterrence and other problem-solving approaches as an efficient and effective means to reduce gun violence. To accomplish this, the Administration's FY 2001 budget sought funding to hire 20 strategic enforcement teams for U.S. Attorney's Offices. These teams will lead community efforts to collect and analyze gun crime data; target offenders and offending groups for intervention; and develop and implement targeted deterrence strategies.
Anti-Trafficking Enforcement. Targeting the illegal supply of firearms under current law has two critical components: (1) ensuring that felons, fugitives, domestic violence offenders and others prohibited by law from possessing guns cannot buy them on the regulated legal market, and (2) preventing and prosecuting illegal gun trafficking that diverts guns from the legal market to the illegal market.
To keep prohibited persons from acquiring guns from licensed gun dealers, we will continue vigorously to enforce the Brady Act. Over 70 percent of Brady Act background checks conducted by the FBI under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) are completed within seconds, and approximately 95 percent are completed within two hours. To assure that Brady background checks are as thorough and quick as possible, we are working to improve the entry of relevant information into law enforcement databases accessible during a NICS background check. To this end, the President's FY 2001 budget sought $70 million-double the current funding level-to improve state criminal history records and therefore enhance the speed and accuracy of Brady background checks.
We will also continue to develop and implement enforcement efforts to prevent the diversion of guns to the illegal market. In particular, we will continue to develop our ability to use crime gun tracing, ballistics imaging, and traditional law enforcement methods to focus systematic law enforcement attention on firearms trafficking to criminals and juveniles. In addition to enhanced funding for firearms prosecutors and agents, the President's FY 2001 budget sought funding to hire 200 new ATF inspectors, who are essential to advance these efforts.
To enhance national enforcement coordination and oversight, the Departments of Justice and Treasury formed a joint firearms enforcement coordination working group, composed of representatives from each agency. This team helps to: monitor and address cross-district, interstate and regional firearms violence and trafficking problems; identify particular high risk firearms trafficking and/or firearms violence areas and trends nationwide and help target resources to these areas for coordinated enforcement and prevention efforts; promote innovative law enforcement strategies and best practices; and support the development and deployment of advanced crime fighting technologies, such as ballistics identification, crime gun tracing, and information systems.
Crime Gun Mapping, Ballistics, and Other Law Enforcement Technology. Rapid advances in technology and computer-based information systems have begun to revolutionize our efforts to reduce firearms violence. Crime gun tracing and analysis and crime mapping provide powerful new tools that help us investigate and prosecute firearms traffickers and violent offenders, and target law enforcement to violent crime "hot spots" where firearms violence and trafficking disproportionately take place. Computerized ballistics imaging can help law enforcement identify a shooter and trace a crime gun, even where the gun itself is not recovered. Our enforcement strategy calls for supporting and implementing the widespread use of evolving technologies and data systems by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities. To help us accomplish these goals, we sought $26.3 million in FY 2001 to develop and deploy the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), and $9 million to expand the firearms tracing system.
Gun Safety Measures.Guns are inherently dangerous consumer products, and we must treat them as such at every step in the distribution chain, from manufacturer to dealer to consumer. Gun owners, the firearms industry, parents, schools, the public health community and community leaders all must work to make firearms safety a top priority. In 1998 alone, firearms accidents killed 866 people-nearly one third of them age 19 or under. Suicide is responsible for more than half of all firearms-related deaths; in 1998, 17,424 people committed suicide with guns.
To reduce gun violence and improve gun safety in homes and communities, the Departments of Justice and the Treasury are working, and will continue to work, with state and local governments and other partners to help develop local and national enforcement and public safety media campaigns. We are also working to enhance our communities' understanding of the causes of suicide, as well as to reduce the incidence of domestic violence.
The firearms industry must do much more to help solve our country's firearms violence problem. Each gun manufacturer and distributor must do a better job of policing its own distribution chain to reduce the illegal supply of guns and keep them from falling into the hands of criminals, unauthorized juveniles, and other prohibited persons. And the industry must do much more to ensure that firearms are transferred only to persons who have the knowledge and experience to handle them safely. The firearms industry also must do everything it can to design its products to be as safe as reasonably possible. We are actively encouraging firearms manufacturers to voluntarily improve their distribution controls, incorporate existing safety devices on their firearms, and devote significant resources to developing new safety devices and technologies to prevent accidental shootings. For example, we are seeking to put "smart" or "personalized" gun technologies-technologies that prevent guns from being fired by anyone other than the authorized users-on the fast track for development, and asked for $10 million in FY 2001 to help accomplish this goal.
Closing the Loopholes in the Federal Firearms Laws
Even with adequate resources and aggressive use of all the tools currently available to us, however, major gaps and deficiencies in the federal firearms laws prevent us from achieving all that we must. The effectiveness of any National Strategy will be needlessly limited unless and until Congress acts: (i) to close the loopholes in the federal firearms laws that allow criminals and other prohibited persons to purchase thousands of guns each year; (ii) to reduce illegal trafficking in firearms; (iii) to create a system that treats firearms as lethal weapons by requiring that purchasers have a certain level of maturity and competence; and (iv) to provide tougher penalties for those who misuse or traffic guns. Our Strategy sets forth crucial legislative proposals in each area. Key measures would:
America's gun violence problem has many dimensions. The problem will not be solved through any one approach, by any one branch of government or by any one segment of society. Gun violence is a complex criminal justice and public health problem, and can only be addressed through a coordinated, multi-faceted approach like that set forth in this National Strategy. Together, we can move much closer toward eliminating the scourge of gun violence from this country, but it will take commitment, cooperation, resources, and political will.