Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction and warm welcome.
Thank you, Steve [Dettelbach] and thanks to your leadership team for the invitation to speak today and to see the ATF National Academy in action.
I’m excited to be here at FLETC — to celebrate and honor today’s graduates.
I want to begin by acknowledging the family members and loved ones here today. It was great to meet so many of you earlier.
Your loved ones have committed themselves to public service. As Special Agents they will be called upon to serve many late nights, to sacrifice time with family during weekends and holidays. They chose that because they answered the call to serve.
But they couldn’t make it to this day — or do what will be asked of them in the days that follow — without your love and support – and without the sacrifices you will make to help them do this work.
So their service is also your service. Thank you.
And now to the graduates — congratulations! You made it! You are the 238th graduating class from the ATF Academy.
Congratulations on fulfilling what for some of you may have been a lifelong dream — and what for all of you has been the goal of the last 27 weeks — becoming a Special Agent of the ATF.
Today marks the culmination of months of intensive training and hours in the classroom:
7 a.m. and 7 p.m. sessions on the range to earn — truly earn — a passing firearms score;
Three weeks straight of complex arson and explosives training;
And weeks of tactical training — so you are ready on day one to handle whatever comes your way.
After all that you have earned the right to be called an ATF Special Agent.
Let that sink in for a moment. Special Agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
You should be incredibly proud of the hard work that got you here.
Your job is now the core mission of the Department of Justice: to keep our country safe, uphold the rule of law, and protect civil rights.
The professionals of ATF come from diverse backgrounds, but you have one thing in common — you are dedicated to protecting the public.
Today, you join an organization with a long and storied history.
Today you join a legacy of legendary crime fighters — like Eliot Ness — and brave law enforcement leaders.
ATF also has a long history of bringing innovative approaches to crime fighting.
From the wiretapping used by ATF’s predecessors during prohibition — to the International Terrorist Bombing Information System pioneered by ATF and used in the fight against terrorism — to advances in forensic science that have revolutionized arson and explosives investigations.
ATF is leading the way again — this time in the battle against the gun violence fueling violent crime.
You are joining ATF at an exciting time and a moment of great promise — and you will be the ones to lead ATF into the future.
Now, more than ever, ATF represents modern policing at its best.
Being a modern law enforcement agency means using intelligence and technology to prevent and solve crimes.
One thing I have learned — and that’s the value of good data and intelligence.
It can prevent the next terror attack or disrupt an emerging cyber threat.
Today, ATF is leading the way in using technology and intelligence to reduce violent crime and make our communities safer.
ATF is the leader in using crime gun intelligence — data and information derived from crime guns and their fired shell casings — to go after the worst violent criminals and take shooters off the streets.
Collecting and analyzing fired shell casings and tracing crime guns is at the heart of identifying and solving gun crimes and stopping shooters before they can strike again.
ATF is the leader in doing just that. Every day it helps the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies use ATF’s unique technology and know-how to protect communities.
That is the legacy you join today.
In the best traditions of innovative crime fighting — that would make Eliot Ness proud — the intelligence derived from data, linking shootings to each other and to perpetrators, is evidence-based, intelligence-led policing.
And ATF is using it to benefit communities across the country. I’ve seen it firsthand — including yesterday in Jacksonville when Director Dettelbach and I visited a crime gun intelligence center developed in partnership with local law enforcement.
I am so proud of the dedicated work that ATF has invested in crime gun intelligence. I am proud of the difference it is making for our partners, and I am proud to welcome you to this work.
ATF is also leading the way in providing critical research to shape violence reduction across the country.
As a department, we are training our sights on the most pressing threats like privately made firearms — ghost guns that can’t be traced.
Thanks to great work by ATF experts and researchers, last year ATF analyzed 20 years of data on the manufacture, importing and exporting of firearms.
This research found that the number of short-barreled rifles has skyrocketed in the last 20 years and that there has been a proliferation of ghost guns — an increase of 1000% in five years.
Next week, ATF will release more critical research, this time analyzing crime gun data.
This new report highlights the incredible value of data from crime gun tracing and ATF’s NIBIN program. It underscores in stark terms the challenges we face on the streets today:
In the last five years, the number of machine gun conversion devices that law enforcement agencies reported being recovered has increased by an alarming 570%.
It’s research like this that is helping ATF and its partners focus on the deadliest and newest threats.
ATF is focusing on these threats and using intelligence and technology to do so because of dedicated and innovative leaders.
Leaders like Marvin Richardson — who has been evangelizing about crime gun intelligence for years.
And leaders like Director Steve Dettelbach – who is focused on the next generation of threats to agents and the communities they serve.
Thanks to Director Dettelbach’s leadership, the ATF has launched the Emerging Threats Unit (ETU).
The ETU is designed to conduct and coordinate multijurisdictional investigations, undercover operations and to use other investigative techniques to target new technologies that threaten public safety.
New technologies like the ghost guns and machine gun conversion devices that violent criminals are using in increasing numbers every day.
So, ATF is harnessing skills and expertise from across the Bureau to stay one step ahead of bad actors.
That’s why the ETU will also go after illegal firearms trafficking conducted on the dark web.
And lest anyone think that all this talk about data, intelligence and research is the stuff of classroom lectures or graduation speeches, these technologies have real-world impacts — they take criminals off the streets and help make us all safer.
To name just a few recent examples:
It was ballistics evidence discovered by ATF that was critical in stopping an alleged serial killer of homeless men in New York City and Washington, D.C.
And in another serial killer case in Stockton, California, it was ATF ballistics testing that tied multiple homicides together and helped police in their search for a suspect.
And it was quick tracing of the serial number on the firearm used in the Brooklyn subway shooting last April that gave investigators an important lead to identify the shooter. A few days ago, the shooter pleaded guilty and now faces up to life in prison.
And just last week, an individual in Maryland was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison after being convicted in connection with a murder-for-hire conspiracy. A key lead in the case came from ballistics evidence, generated through NIBIN, and connected the gun used in the murder to the defendant.
Every day across the country, ATF’s ballistics analysis and gun tracing is being used — from small town police departments to the largest federal agencies — to produce leads that result in arrests and convictions.
The Attorney General and I, and the Director, are deeply committed to investing in the technology and infrastructure that support crime gun intelligence and to nurturing the relationships with federal, state and local partners that ensure the intelligence is brought to bear to stop violent crime.
We will not rest until every community and law enforcement agency across our country has ready access to NIBIN ballistics technology and the crime-busting intelligence it provides.
As newly minted Special Agents, you are also joining an agency that has a critical regulatory mission — one that ensures that law abiding citizens can exercise their Second Amendment rights and that others cannot evade public safety protections enshrined in law.
Just last week, ATF took an important step to enhance public safety when it issued the Stabilizing Brace Rule.
This is a rule that ensures all short-barreled rifles, including those created when a qualifying brace is added to a pistol, are subject to applicable law.
The rule makes clear that short-barreled rifles must be registered and subject to a background check before any transfer so they don’t end up in the hands of prohibited persons.
This rule is about safety. In recent years, mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and Boulder, Colorado, were carried out with firearms outfitted with stabilizing braces.
This new rule is just another example of our pledge — and ATF’s mission — to use every tool available to reduce violent crime in our communities.
In the face of often terrible crime, and sometimes at great personal risk, ATF agents quietly go about the work of developing evidence and leads, seeking out suspects, and pursuing justice on behalf of victims.
You now join these ranks. Know that what you do matters.
Every day, you and your fellow Agents will put your lives on the line — for strangers.
You will do so quietly; you will do so with little fanfare.
Let me leave you with a story about what ATF stands for.
Just a few weeks ago, while he was on vacation, Senior Special Agent (SSA) Rich Clabeaux was going about his day — he wasn’t on the job. But that didn’t matter. He saw a man in distress who appeared to be attempting to jump off an overpass bridge.
SSA Clabeaux immediately stopped and began talking with the man, and as he did so, he called 9-1-1.
SSA Clabeaux kept talking with the man until emergency assistance could arrive and help this stranger is distress.
I’m sure there were others who drove by that man. After all, he was a stranger.
But Senior Special Agent Clabeaux made a choice — to stop; he made a choice to help.
And in doing so he made a difference and likely saved a life.
He made a choice that reflects the very best of ATF.
Now, I know there are stories of ATF bravery and heroism in the face of violence, gunfire, explosions — danger. Those stories reflect the best of ATF to be sure — and so do the actions of SSA Clabeaux.
He stepped up — when no one was watching.
To the graduates here today – you have also made a choice. You have chosen to take on a tremendous challenge: To become Special Agents of the ATF.
Thank you for making the choice to serve.
Congratulations on your accomplishment today. I wish you the very best.