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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Chiefs of Police Executive Forum on Crime Guns at ATF Headquarters


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you, Marvin. It is an honor to be introduced by you. Your illustrious career unmatched, and your contributions to ATF will never be forgotten. We are grateful. It has been an honor to work with you.

Good morning, everyone and welcome to ATF headquarters.  

I want to thank you for joining us today. Most important, I want to thank you for your leadership and for your partnership.

Soon after I was sworn in as Attorney General over a year ago, I launched an anti-violent crime strategy aimed at fighting the rise in violence that we all saw in 2020. 

That strategy is based on partnership: partnership among federal law enforcement agencies assisting in the fight against violent crime; partnership with the local communities facing the harm that violent crime causes them; and partnership with the state, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies protecting those local communities every day.

You in this room are our indispensable partners in everything we do to keep our communities safe. That partnership is this country’s most powerful tool – and our best hope – to protect our communities.

You and your officers are the ones on the frontlines combating violent crime and the gun violence that is often at its core.

You and your officers are the ones who risk your lives every day on behalf of the communities you serve.

That is not just rhetoric. That is stark reality. Just two days ago, I attended the annual Blue Mass in honor of the more than 470 officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2021. 

And that is why one of our most important jobs is to give you the support and resources that you need to do yours.

At the Justice Department, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the fight to protect our communities from violent crime.

We announced today’s convening earlier this year, during a meeting that President Biden and I held with the local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that are members of the New York Gun Violence Strategic Partnership.

During your time here over the next two days, you will hear from a wide variety of experts across the Department’s components and law enforcement agencies. You will hear about crime-gun intelligence best practices and the resources that we have available for your departments.

But we want to hear from you – not just during this convening, but at any time. We want to hear how we can be better partners, and what we can do to support you.

By the end of this convening, we hope that you will have seen how ATF’s data-driven, technological approach to combating gun crime makes it an enormous value-add to the capacities of your departments and offices.

Every day, usually outside of the public eye, ATF agents and experts work tirelessly to disrupt the entire cycle of gun violence – from the places where illegally trafficked guns originated to the communities where the shootings are often concentrated.

ATF agents are part of multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional violent crime task forces all across the country. And since last summer, we have also embedded ATF agents in local homicide units, where they have provided expertise and support to individual departments. 

ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGIC) coordinate comprehensive crime gun tracing and ballistics evidence analysis. That includes three CGI centers represented here today, the New York-New Jersey HIDTA CGIC, the D.C. Metropolitan Police NIBIN Investigations Unit, and the San Francisco CGIC.

ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network – or NIBIN – turns the evidence that law enforcement agencies collect at crime scenes into leads that assist in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those who commit violent crimes.

In the last fiscal year, ATF traced well over half a million firearms. 

In this fiscal year, ATF is on pace to trace more than 600,000 firearms. In March of this year, trace requests to the ATF reached an all-time monthly high, with 62,000 trace requests.

Let me briefly describe three recent events that will give you a window on the investigative power that ATF’s tracings can put at your disposal.

The first took place earlier this spring. After a series of shootings of homeless individuals in New York and Washington, D.C., NIBIN established that the same shooter was responsible for all of the shootings. That evidence, in turn, quickly led to leads that led to the identification and arrest of the alleged shooter.

Just a month later, a gunman shot 10 people in a Brooklyn subway. NYPD recovered a gun from the scene, which ATF quickly traced through a series of years-old transactions to the alleged gunman. 

And just last month, I announced a superseding indictment in an alleged gun trafficking conspiracy that stretched across multiple states. 

That case began when a mass shooting in my hometown of Chicago, which left seven people wounded and one person dead. The Chicago Police Department recovered guns from the scene and submitted them to the ATF’s National Tracing Center.

ATF traced those guns and found that five of them had recently been purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers located hundreds of miles away.

Further investigations by our agents and law enforcement partners uncovered a gun trafficking conspiracy involving over 90 guns and 12 defendants.

Many of the guns involved in that conspiracy have since been linked to shootings in the Chicago area in which multiple people have been injured and several killed.

As we continue to strengthen coordination with our law enforcement partners to trace the guns recovered at crime scenes, we are also working to counter the threat posed by certain guns that heretofore have been untraceable. 

We are committed to meeting the threat that those ghost guns pose to your communities and you.

Each U.S. Attorney’s Office and each ATF Field Division is designating coordinators to work with our law enforcement partners to tackle this threat.

And we are updating our regulations to keep pace with the ever-changing firearms technology.

The Department has finalized a rule that makes clear that parts kits that can readily be converted into assembled firearms will now be treated as what they are: firearms.

This means that those who engage in the business of dealing in these guns will be required to mark every frame or receiver with a serial number, so that the guns can be traced if they are used in crimes.

Those who commercially sell these guns must be federally licensed, maintain records, and run background checks before a [sale] – as they would do with any other gun.

And any federal firearms licensee who takes into inventory a ghost gun without a serial number will be required to add one.

These changes will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to get their hands on untraceable weapons.

And they will help ensure that we can get you the trace information you need to solve the crimes in your neighborhoods.

Last week, I testified at House and Senate appropriations hearings regarding the Justice Department’s budget for Fiscal Year 23. 

When I was asked what role the Department’s joint operations with state and local enforcement partners play in our efforts to combat crime, my answer was simple:

They, and that means you, are the center of our strategy, and the core of everything we do.

That is why we directed all 94 United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country to work with their state and local partners to address the violent crime problems that are specific to their districts.

That is why we strengthened Project Safe Neighborhoods, our cornerstone initiative to reduce violent crime at the community level.

That is why we awarded more than $139 million in grants through the COPS Hiring Program, which provided funding to 183 law enforcement agencies nationwide to hire more than 1,000 additional fulltime officers.

That is why we established cross-jurisdictional strike forces designated to disrupt illegal gun trafficking networks.

That is why we instructed our U.S. Attorneys’ offices to prioritize prosecutions of the most dangerous offenders who are responsible for the greatest violence. This includes those who illegally traffic in firearms and those who act as straw purchasers.

As we continue this work, we know that essential to our success – and yours – are resources.

To that end, our FY23 Budget request includes more than $8 billion in grants for states and localities to fund local law enforcement, to build trust with the communities they serve, and to implement community-based strategies to prevent gun crime and gun violence.

As you will hear tomorrow from representatives of the Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, we are committed to providing grants to support your capacity to assist in your efforts to prevent the increases in gun violence in your communities. 

Among other things, those grants will enable individual departments to work alongside ATF to develop comprehensive crime gun intelligence protocols. 

I encourage you to look into how these programs might benefit your departments and to ask any questions that you may have.

All of us – across the entire Justice Department – are committed to using every tool to give you the support that you need to do your jobs safely and effectively.

We know how much is being asked of you and your officers right now.

We know that every day – no matter the difficulty, no matter the danger – you show up.

You make extraordinary sacrifices.

You put your lives on the line.

And you do this because you care deeply about the communities you serve.

We are grateful for your partnership. Thank you for coming to today’s convening.

Updated May 5, 2022