Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
I am happy to be in Memphis this morning.
I would like to thank U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant, Director of Memphis Police Michael Rallings, District Attorney General Amy Weirich, the brave men and women of the Memphis police force, as well as ATF Director Regina Lombardo and all of the ATF agents who work here in Memphis.
I am grateful for all you do to make this great city safe.
I am here to announce a new federal initiative to combat violent crime and gun violence called Project Guardian.
I have long believed that the first duty of government is to protect the safety of our citizens.
When I was last Attorney General in 1991, the country had experienced an explosion of violent crime. Crime rates had tripled over the previous decades. Violent crime was at its peak.
At that time, the federal government dramatically increased its focus on combatting violent crime. We launched a series of initiatives focused on drug organizations, gangs, and gun offenders.
We also expanded our close collaboration and joint operations with our state and local partners.
A key initiative that was launched was Project Triggerlock, which targeted for federal prosecution violent felons who illegally possessed guns. It used our very strong federal gun laws to put those people away for a long period of time, a resolution that we couldn’t get from many of the state systems. Working cooperatively with district attorneys’ offices and the police in various cities, we were able to have these cases referred to us in able to use our strong federal laws to address them.
When I left office, we were charging approximately 1,000 offenders a month for gun violations.
Over the next 25 years, violent crime was cut in half.
Unfortunately, during the last two years of the Obama Administration, it started increasing again.
But this Administration put a stop to that and reversed that trend.
Once again, working with our state and local partners, we pushed crime rates down in 2017 and 2018.
In 2018, violent crime went down nearly 4% nationwide.
Unfortunately, crime remains too high in many of our cities and rural areas.
Memphis is not one of those cities which has benefitted from the decline in crime.
In Memphis, the violent crime rate is 5.3 times the national average and the murder rate is 5.7 times the national average.
And that is why I’ve come to Memphis to announce this new program that will revive the old Triggerlock program, which was not as consistently followed over the years as it should have been. In some administrations, it was deemphasized, and in some localities and offices it was a really solid program.
What we are trying to do is take those Triggerlock principles that were successful in the past and revamp this program, resuscitate it, and double down on it nationwide.
This is a national program. It will be in every district. The idea is to use our existing gun laws to incapacitate the most dangerous and violent offenders. As most of you know, with Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is one of the flagship programs of the Department of Justice, we do go after the armed felons. But that program is regionally based; we go after particular areas.
Project Guardian is a national initiative to comprehensively attack gun violence through the aggressive enforcement of existing gun laws.
This will be implemented nationwide in every federal district. We are going to apply pressure with vigor where gun violence is the highest in places like Memphis. Local agencies will be involved, but ATF will be leading this effort. It will involve all federal law enforcement agencies working closely with our state and local colleagues.
There are five basic elements:
Coordinated prosecutions. We will work with our state and local partners to target for federal prosecution dangerous criminals who possess or use firearms.
Crackdown on evasions of federal firearms laws and background checks. We are going to enforce them with a vengeance. We will step up prosecutions on “lie-and-try,” “lie-and-buy,” and straw purchases – evasions of the current background check system. I was told each year there are about 100,000 rejections and denials under our background check system. We are going to be pursuing people who have lied on their applications.
Improved sharing of information. When prohibited individuals are detected trying to purchase firearms, we will share that information with state and local law enforcement for pursuing.
Coordinated response to mental health denials. Of the 100,000 or so a year that are denied, approximately 6,000 are for mental illness. As part of this program, we will be making a concerted effort whenever we encounter information relevant to these individuals in the course of our federal cases. We will first ensure that information is put into the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) system so any efforts to purchase firearms will have to deal with that information. But we will also consult on those individuals we identified and were denied on the basis of mental illness. We will consult with our state and local colleagues to determine whether there is an available mental health response, and try to ensure that this doesn’t fall through the cracks simply because we don’t have an immediate law enforcement basis to arrest the person. We will still try to monitor the situation and interdict any efforts by those individuals who obtain firearms.
And fifth, the Department and its partners will work together to ensure effective use of ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs) and all related resources to maximize modern-intelligence tools and technology, such as NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) and firearms tracing, in our investigations.
This five-prong framework will enable ATF and each United States Attorney, in collaboration with our state and local partners, to fight gun crime in ways that fit the local circumstances and leverage the power of the federal law, the federal courts, and the federal agencies in this effort.
There is more coming, but by launching Project Guardian, we are together taking a significant step in bolstering the safety and security of our communities. Those who commit gun crimes and those who enable them should know this: We’re coming after you.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Reggie Lombardo from ATF for her comments.