Justice Dept. rolls out new program to combat gun violence

FILE  - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks during a tour of a federal prison in Edgefield, S.C. Barr plans to promote a crime-fighting initiative Tuesday, Nov. 12 in New Mexico as the state struggles to curb some of the highest property and violent crimes rates in the nation. Barr is joining U.S. Marshal Service Director Donald Washington and other federal authorities in Albuquerque to announce the arrests of 300 fugitives suspected of violent crimes, according to the Justice Department. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks during a tour of a federal prison in Edgefield, S.C. Barr plans to promote a crime-fighting initiative Tuesday, Nov. 12 in New Mexico as the state struggles to curb some of the highest property and violent crimes rates in the nation. Barr is joining U.S. Marshal Service Director Donald Washington and other federal authorities in Albuquerque to announce the arrests of 300 fugitives suspected of violent crimes, according to the Justice Department. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MEMPHIS, TN – Attorney General William Barr announced a new initiative Wednesday that would better enforce the U.S. gun background check system, coordinate state and federal gun cases and ensure prosecutors quickly update databases to show when a defendant can’t possess a firearm because of mental health issues.

The push, known as Project Guardian, was unveiled at a news conference in Memphis, Tennessee, alongside officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, on the same day public impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump began in Washington.

As part of the program, U.S. prosecutors will coordinate with state and local law enforcement officials to consider potential federal charges when a suspect is arrested for weapons possession, is believed to have used a gun to commit a violent crime or drug-trafficking offense or is suspected of being a violent gang member.

“Gun crime remains a pervasive problem in too many communities across America,” Barr said in a statement.

The program “will strengthen our efforts to reduce gun violence by allowing the federal government and our state and local partners to better target offenders who use guns in crimes and those who try to buy guns illegally,” Barr said.

During the news conference, Barr said discussions about any new legislation tied to the project have been sidetracked due to the impeachment process on Capitol Hill. He said Congress has been asked for more resources, including more ATF agents and U.S. marshals.

“We are going forward with all the operational steps that we can take that do not require legislative action,” Barr said.

The initiative requires agents in charge of ATF offices across the country to either create new guidelines or review the protocols already in place to bring federal charges against people who lie in order to obtain a gun from a firearms dealer. Prosecutors will particularly focus on offenders who have violent backgrounds, are gang members or who have faced domestic violence charges.