‘Project Guardian’ is the effective gun law change we need
According to the FBI’s most recent 2018 crime statistics released this past September, violent crime of almost every category decreased from 2017 to 2018. The 3.3 percent drop continues the general decline of violent crime in the U.S since the early 1990s, but this trend also means that our law enforcement officials need to become increasingly proactive in their efforts to prevent increasingly publicized, tragic incidents of mass murder in sacred places like schools and houses of worship.
Predictably, the response of many celebrities, activists, and politicians to these horrific incidents has been an effort to push radical ideas like firearm confiscations from law abiding citizens into the mainstream. By contrast, the Trump administration has now launched Project Guardian through the U.S Justice Department, comprised of thoughtful and effective measures that will properly empower law enforcement at the federal, state, and local level without compromising the right of Americans to bear arms.
Project Guardian, introduced by Attorney General William Barr last month, is a multifaceted plan that will rely on improved information sharing to more effectively enforce current firearms laws and better prosecute the criminals who violate them. Primarily, Project Guardian places increased reporting standards on federal law enforcement to regularly share with state law enforcement the lists of persons rejected from buying a firearm under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). More specifically, this memo directs the offices of all U.S Attorneys to more promptly submit to NICS case records of individuals who become legally ineligible to own firearms. This will greatly reduce the lag time between a court’s decision to determine an individual is disqualified from buying or possessing a firearm and the NICS database having knowledge of that determination.
More thorough reporting standards among federal, state, and local law enforcement is crucial to ensure that horrendous incidents like the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, for example, be prevented. In the investigation following this tragedy in 2015, then-FBI Director James Comey made it explicitly clear that Dylann Roof should never have been allowed to purchase a gun — and that he was only allowed to do so when state law enforcement officials failed to provide the FBI with proper details of Roof’s previous crimes, crimes that included possession of a controlled substance, which then-Director Comey said, “would have triggered an FBI denial of his weapons purchase.”
Even before that shooting the Justice Department had already been auditing NICS to asses “the effectiveness of processes related to the FBI’s referral of denials to ATF; ATF’s initial screening and referral of denials to its field offices for investigation” as described by a then DOJ spokeswoman. Project Guardian explicitly addresses the concerns that warranted such an audit and will be instrumental in preventing people like Dylann Roof from purchasing firearms when the law clearly states they never should have been able to.
Additionally, the project’s memo instructs U.S Attorneys and district ATF agents to create or revise more clear guidelines for prosecutions of criminals who lie in trying to acquire a firearm from a Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL). Emphasizing law enforcement’s commitment to seek out and prosecute criminal gun purchases, especially straw purchases, is a key component to ensuring firearms do not end up in the hands of those who threaten our communities.
The dangers of straw purchasers, for example, were laid bare in 2017 when Enrique Marquez Jr. pled guilty to purchasing semiautomatic modern sporting rifles for Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who used them to tragically murder 14 innocent people in San Bernardino, Calif. Focused efforts under Project Guardian on coordinated prosecution and enforcement of federal firearms laws will ensure that criminals like Marquez will be deterred from straw purchasing firearms and, if not, be aggressively prosecuted by the full force of the U.S justice system.
Furthermore, Project Guardian also provides instructions for federal officers to work closely with state and local law enforcement to “assess the feasibility of adopting disruption and early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited individuals who, attempt to acquire a firearm and to counter the threat” of mass violence.
It is crucial that current laws are fully enforced so that criminals and the mentally ill that pose a threat to others are more likely to be stopped before they illegally purchase a firearm or commit a crime, while the rights of law abiding gun owners are not infringed upon by politicians who are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to an extremely complex issue.
Lawrence G. Keane is the senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.