CHICAGO – As part of the Biden administration’s approach to combatting rising gun violence in the U.S., Attorney General Merrick Garland met with federal agents and attorneys Thursday to launch five new gun trafficking “strike forces” targeting the illegal flow of firearms across state lines.
Authorities will coordinate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and cities and states to crack down on gun trafficking corridors that have diverted guns into New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C., the Justice Department announced last month.
The DOJ added “the strike forces will share information and otherwise collaborate across districts” to “focus enforcement against entire trafficking networks.”
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Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco visited ATF headquarters in Washington early Thursday to meet with bureau leaders and investigators before a planned visit to Chicago.
U.S. Attorneys from the Eastern District of California, the Northern District of California, the Eastern District of New York, the Northern District of Illinois and the District of Columbia joined the meeting over video.
“We all know our job is to go after those who pull the trigger,” Monaco said. She added: “But our job is also, of course, to go after the sources of those guns, the corridors that they travel in and the networks that feed those guns to the places where they are doing the most violent crime, and that is what this series of strike force efforts is all about.”
President Joe Biden referenced the strike forces in a speech from the White House last month touting a “zero-tolerance policy” for rogue gun dealers and a new focus by the Justice Department to try to stop the illegal sale of firearms.
There is no federal gun trafficking law, so federal agents often must rely on other statutes, like lying on a firearms purchase form, to prosecute gun trafficking cases or stop straw purchasers, people who buy weapons legally to then provide them to others who can’t legally have them.
Officials hope the new plan will mean federal prosecutors in some of the supply cities will be more likely to bring charges in those cases.
The attorney general’s trip comes as some U.S. cities are seeing a rise in murders and shootings this year.
Compared to the same period last year, shooting incidents are up 22% in New York City, and the number of shooting victims is up 43% in Los Angeles, according to police. In San Francisco, the city’s police chief reported about twice as many shootings in the first half of the year compared to the same time last year. In Washington, homicides are up 1%, according to police.
In Chicago, shootings are up 9% from the same time last year. Chicago has seen more than 2,100 shooting victimizations – an event when a person becomes the victim of a crime – so far this year, and more than 380 people have been fatally shot, according to city data.
The city saw three shootings Wednesday where four or more people were shot or killed, not including the shooter – what the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of gun violence, defines as a mass shooting.
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Five men were shot on the city’s West Side on Wednesday, including a 14-year-old boy who was fatally shot in the head, according to police. Minutes later several blocks away, five people – including teens ages 14, 15 and 17 – were wounded. Then, just before midnight, eight people who had been traveling on a party bus on the city’s North Side were wounded in a drive-by shooting, according to police.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown called on community members to come forward with information about the shootings in a Thursday press conference. Many of the people targeted in the shootings were not cooperating with law enforcement, Brown said.
“We want to keep our babies safe. They deserve a right to live,” pastor James Brooks of Harmony Community Church in North Lawndale, where two of the shootings happened, said at the press conference Thursday. “We need the community to help us. We need everybody. It’s all of our responsibility to step out and say something.”
Chicago has dedicated 50 officers to be involved in gun trafficking efforts, Brown said.
Meanwhile, Chicago leaders approved a new layer of civilian police oversight Wednesday after years of protests against officer misconduct – a move officials say is key to reestablishing community trust in law enforcement.
“Reform is good for policing,” Brown said Thursday. “It has the potential to build trust with the communities.”
Contributing: Associated Press