The following post appears courtesy of Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. It was adapted from recent remarks made to the National District Attorneys Association Winter Conference.
Gun violence has touched every state, county, city and town in America. While we have seen the devastating examples of it over the years, since December’s horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, the need to address this problem has been center stage. And we at the department — led by the Attorney General – have been working with Vice President Biden and agencies and departments across the Obama Administration to formulate concrete, common-sense recommendations for reducing gun violence and preventing future tragedies.
The Administration has proposed a range of legislative remedies – along with 23 executive actions – to address mass shootings and reduce gun violence. The Department of Justice is working to implement a number of those executive actions.
For example, we are working to strengthen the national background check system by addressing gaps in the federal and state records currently available in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Those gaps significantly hinder the ability of NICS to quickly confirm whether a prospective purchaser is prohibited from acquiring a firearm as a felon.
There are also still 12 states with fewer than 10 mental health records in the system. To help fix this problem, we are providing $25 million in grants to states to assist them in finding ways to make more records available, especially mental health records.
We are also making it possible for local law enforcement officers to run a full NICS background check before returning a firearm to someone after the criminal investigation is finished. For example, when a stolen firearm recovered by police is returned to its original owner, the police need to be sure they are not returning that weapon to a prohibited person.
In addition, the ATF will soon be publishing instructions on how to trace recovered firearms. All it takes is a computer and an internet connection. We encourage local law enforcement officers to do this every time they recover a firearm. ATF will also be publishing an annual report on nationwide lost and stolen gun data. Making this data available gives us a great opportunity for us to work together, at all levels of government to use our limited resources as effectively as possible, to make our communities safer.
We’re also taking a hard look at our federal laws and our enforcement priorities to ensure that we are doing everything possible at the federal level to keep firearms away from traffickers and others who should not have them.
And while most of our efforts will be focused on keeping guns out of the wrong hands, we also want to help those on the ground prevent and mitigate violent situations when they do occur. To this end, the FBI will be providing a new specialized training course for active shooter situations for law enforcement officers, first responders, and school officials.
We recognize that it is not just a federal problem and our law enforcement partners at the state, local and tribal levels are doing some of the hardest and most important work to keep our people safe, and our cities, neighborhoods, and schools secure.
Working together, on these and other efforts, we will help reduce gun violence and prevent future tragedies.