AG Launches Project Guardian in Territory: Nationwide Plan to Reduce Gun Violence

Illegal firearms are the target in a new initiative by Attorney General William Barr.

Attorney General William Barr has announced the launch of Project Guardian, a new initiative designed to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws across the country. Specifically, Project Guardian focuses on investigating, prosecuting and preventing gun crimes.

U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands Gretchen Shappert emphasized that her office strongly supports the project and her office will work with federal and local law enforcement partners to implement the initiative.

Reducing gun violence and enforcing federal firearms laws have always been among the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) highest priorities. In order to develop a new and robust effort to promote and ensure public safety, DOJ reviewed and adapted some of the successes of past strategies to curb gun violence. Project Guardian draws on the DOJ’s earlier achievements, such as the Triggerlock program, and it serves as a complementary effort to the success of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN).

In addition, the initiative emphasizes the importance of using all modern technologies available to law enforcement to promote gun crime intelligence.

“Gun crime remains a pervasive problem in too many communities across America. Today, the Department of Justice is redoubling its commitment to tackling this issue through the launch of Project Guardian,” said Attorney General Barr. “Building on the success of past programs like Triggerlock, Project Guardian 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.”

“Here in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the level of gun-related violence is intolerable. Just this week, we have seen the lives of a 9-year-old child and a 19-year-old-college student cut short because of gun crime. Prosecuting violent offenders is a top priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We’re focused on the shooters, the gun traffickers and those individuals who facilitate the distribution and purchase of illegal firearms,” said Shappert.

Ari C. Shapira, special agent in charge of the ATF Miami Field Division, which includes the U.S.V.I., concurred. “At the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) reducing gun violence is our highest priority in our mission to ensure public safety. Getting guns off our streets and denying offenders the opportunity to possess them is integral to this mission. I am energized by my continued partnerships with the U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands and officials from the territorial government. Project Guardian will aid us all in our mutual goal to reduce gun violence and improve the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders.”

According to Doug Leff, special agent in charge for the FBI in the territory and Puerto Rico, “Stopping the flow of illegal firearms and preventing deadly incidents is a common goal shared by all branches of government and the public. … The FBI is proud to be a partner in this aggressive new initiative.”

Project Guardian’s implementation is based on five principles:
1) Coordinated Prosecution. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement will coordinate with state, local and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors to consider potential federal prosecution for new cases involving a defendant who: a) was arrested in possession of a firearm, b) is believed to have used a firearm in committing a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime prosecutable in federal court or c) is suspected of actively committing violent crime(s) in the community on behalf of a criminal organization.

2) Enforcing the Background Check System. United States attorneys, in consultation with the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in their district, will create new or review existing guidelines for intake and prosecution of federal cases involving false statements (including lie-and-try, lie-and-buy and straw purchasers) made during the acquisition or attempted acquisition of firearms from federal firearms licensees.

Particular emphasis is placed on individuals convicted of violent felonies or misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, individuals subject to protective orders, individuals who are fugitives where the underlying offense is a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, individuals suspected of involvement in criminal organizations or of providing firearms to criminal organizations and individuals involved in repeat denials.

3) Improved Information Sharing. On a regular basis, and as often as practical given current technical limitations, ATF will provide to state law enforcement fusion centers a report listing individuals for whom the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has issued denials, including the basis for the denial, so that state and local law enforcement can take appropriate steps under their laws.

4) Coordinated Response to Mental Health Denials. Each United States attorney will ensure that whenever there is federal case information regarding individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under the mental health prohibition, such information continues to be entered timely and accurately into the United States Attorneys’ Offices’ case-management system for prompt submission to NICS. ATF should engage in additional outreach to state and local law enforcement on how to use this denial information to better assure public safety.

Additionally, United States attorneys will consult with relevant district stakeholders to assess feasibility of adopting disruption of early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited individuals who attempt to acquire a firearm. United States attorneys should consider, when appropriate, recommending court-ordered mental health treatment for any sentences issued to individuals prohibited based on mental health.

5) Crime Gun Intelligence Coordination. Federal, state, local and tribal prosecutors and law enforcement will work together to ensure effective use of the ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs), and all related resources, to maximize the use of modern intelligence tools and technology. These tools can greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness in identifying trigger-pullers and finding their guns, but the success depends in large part on state, local and tribal law enforcement partners sharing ballistic evidence and firearm recovery data with the ATF.

Federal law enforcement represents only about 15 percent of all law enforcement resources nationwide. Therefore, partnerships with state, local and tribal law enforcement and the communities they serve are critical to addressing gun crime. The Department recognizes that sharing information with our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners at every level will enhance public safety and provide a greater depth of resources available to address gun crime on a national level.

For more information on Project Guardian, see the attorney general’s memorandum at: https://www.justice.gov/ag/project-guardian-memo-2019/download.

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