The Justice Department is making a new push to combat gun violence in the wake of a string of mass shootings over the past several months by enforcing laws already on the books and asking states and other federal agencies to help strengthen the firearm purchase background check system, it said Monday.
The package of modest directives from Attorney General Jeff Sessions came as President Donald Trump formally unveiled his own school safety proposals Monday.
“No child should have to fear going to school or walking the streets of their neighborhood,” Sessions said in a statement.
More specifically, Sessions has now directed federal prosecutors to “swiftly and aggressively” step up prosecutions of prospective firearm purchasers who lie on their background check forms, a federal crime that a 2016 internal department review found suffered from uneven and lackluster enforcement.
Sessions had directed the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in November to conduct a comprehensive review of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in the wake of the shooting of churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and to recommend changes within 60 days.
An executive summary of the findings from that review said the Justice Department lacks the resources to prosecute everyone who lies on their background check form because the volume is “enormous,” so the ATF recommended focusing on cases where an individual has a history of domestic violence or some other violent felony.
Sessions also directed the FBI on Monday to identify local jurisdictions that are failing to report arrests to their state repositories, called on the heads of federal agencies to certify that they will report all relevant records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and reiterated that the department plans to review how law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public.
On Monday, the President formally unveiled a plan that included asking states to adopt “extreme risk protection orders,” which allow law enforcement officers, with court approval, to temporarily prevent some people from purchasing firearms and to remove firearms from those who pose a threat to themselves or others.
“The Department stands ready to assist states, at their request, on establishing and implementing extreme risk protection orders,” the Justice Department said in a statement on that proposal, but did not provide further details.
Additionally, Sessions announced that the department will provide $1 million in grant funding to Broward County, Florida, to defray the overtime costs related to law enforcement’s response to the fatal shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and that Justice will help local law enforcement hire more school resource officers through other department grant programs.