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What can the Department of Justice do to prevent gun violence?

The U.S. Department of Justice is essential in stopping gun violence. Improvements and regulation are needed to keep guns out of the wrong hands, hold the gun industry accountable, and support communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence—and that starts with President Joe Biden naming Judge Merrick Garland as Attorney General. The Department of Justice can take strong actions to prevent gun violence, including the hate-motivated violence and armed far-right extremism that was put on display with the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Here are some things the Attorney General can do to address our nation’s gun violence crisis:

Improve the Background Check System

The most effective way to prevent gun violence is by keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Background checks are the foundation of comprehensive gun violence prevention strategies, but loopholes in the process hinder its effectiveness. These are actions the Attorney General can take to strengthen the background check system:

Clarify who is prohibited from purchasing a gun

  • Finalize the Obama-Biden regulation on gun prohibitions for people who have been in involuntary outpatient treatment. 
  • Clarify by regulation that convicted domestic abusers are prohibited purchasers even if they are not married to their victims.
  • Reverse President Trump’s dangerous policy change that allows many fugitives from justice to buy guns.
  • Provide guidance, training, and new funding to help state and local officials remove firearms when a person becomes prohibited.

Address loopholes in the process

  • Require federally licensed gun dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) every time they go forward with a sale through the Charleston loophole (a sale before the background check is complete).
  • Release exhaustive Charleston loophole data, including retrieval actions referred to ATF and successful ATF retrieval actions.
  • Eliminate the FBI regulation that requires incomplete background checks to be terminated after 90 days. 
  • Establish a strong retrieval program that increases the number of illegal guns removed by ATF. 
  • Issue a new regulation clarifying which gun sellers must get dealer licenses and run background checks.

Regulate Ghost Guns

  • Issue a regulation making clear that ghost guns already qualify as firearms under the law and can never be sold without a serial number or a background check.
  • Record when ghost guns are involved in criminal investigations, collect data from state and local authorities, and publish information about ghost gun use in crime as part of regular crime gun recovery reporting.
  • Support moving jurisdiction over downloadable guns back to the State Department and dedicate resources to policing unlawful downloadable gun postings.

Make sure the background check system is working

  • Establish best practices and training for reporting records to the background check system; require that the N-DEx database be used for all background checks. 
  • Improve the number and accuracy of records in the background check system
  • Alert state and local law enforcement each time a person fails a background check. 
  • Prioritize resources for tackling the online gun market, taking action against prohibited buyers who exploit the unlicensed sales loophole.

Stop Hate Crimes & Armed Extremism

The attack on the Capitol demonstrated the danger armed extremism poses to our country. Easy access to guns gives hate-filled individuals the means to impact the lives of individuals and whole communities. These are actions the Attorney General can take to stop hate crimes and armed extremism:

  • Prioritize and incentivize efforts to track and assess acts of domestic terrorism, violent extremism, and hate crimes.
  • Focus hate crime prosecutions on attacks against traditionally marginalized Americans and prioritize prosecuting hate crimes and acts of armed intimidation meant to interfere with the exercise of protected rights. 
  • Use state Extreme Risk laws to remove firearms from individuals on the verge of hate-motivated violence.
  • Ghost guns are a weapon of choice for armed extremists, which is another reason to regulate the parts and kits used to make them.

City Gun Violence: Shut Down the Supply of Illegal Guns

To end gun violence, the gun industry must be held accountable. Extensive measures can be taken to shine light on who is supplying illegal guns to our communities, stop gun trafficking, and ensure that gun dealers are effectively following the rules and bad actors are held accountable. These are actions the Attorney General can take to keep illegal guns from getting to our communities: 

Increase Transparency About the Source of Illegal Guns

  • Update critical reports and develop new ways to share information about gun trafficking and the source of crime guns.
  • Clarify that the federal budget riders restricting access to certain crime gun trace data (the so-called Tiahrt Amendments) do not restrict ATF’s ability to publish or release aggregate data.
  • Expand access to technologies that identify and trace crime guns. 
  • Update firearm serial number requirements to require markings that are easy to identify and difficult to obliterate. 
  • Demonstrate the promise of microstamping technology.
  • Spur development of smart gun technology to prevent gun theft.

Improve Gun Dealer Accountability and Weed Out Bad Actors

  • Modernize the application process for becoming a gun dealer or renewing an existing license.
  • Strengthen record-keeping requirements to require dealers to video-record every sale and have a process for keeping electronic records about gun sales. 
  • Dramatically step up inspections of gun dealers and disciplinary response to negligent or unscrupulous behavior.
  • Strengthen the regulation on what constitutes a secure gun storage or safety device that is required to be sold with every new handgun.

City Gun Violence: Fund Evidence-Informed Programs and Support Survivors

To address gun violence in cities, the Department of Justice should increase funding for programs that will support communities and individuals deeply impacted by gun violence. These are actions the Attorney General can take to prevent gun violence in these communities:

Increase Violence Intervention Program Funding

  • Ramp up investment in community-led gun violence reduction.
  • Prioritize funding for evidence-based intervention programs, access to mental health services, and crime prevention through environmental design.

Support Survivors of Gun Violence

  • Facilitate unlocking funding for gun violence victim services and Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)-eligible violence intervention programs as part of the VOCA victim assistance program
  • Provide survivors of gun violence with the resources and assistance necessary to aid their recovery (audit state VOCA grants, create a database of providers, make a dedicated stream of funds).

Stop Gun Violence by Police

Every year, police in America shoot and kill more than 1,000 people, and Black people are victims at a disproportionate rate. The Department of Justice should take steps to hold police accountable for their actions. These are actions the Attorney General can take to prevent gun violence by police:

  • Set new police accountability conditions on existing grant programs.
  • Commit to a robust program of investigating abusive police departments.
  • Foster and publish data on police use of force. 
  • Provide training and technical assistance on equitable policing and police accountability.

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