The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday that one of its gun crime initiatives has resulted in the arrest of eight suspects who attempted to purchase guns despite being prohibited from doing so.
The department said its Rhode Island Project Safe Neighborhoods has identified at least 44 firearms that were sold or transferred illegally. Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) as well as state and local police departments focused their efforts on those who allegedly lied to gun dealers during a gun purchase. The so-called "lie-and-buy" crimes have received increased scrutiny in recent months with the DOJ promising this month to put a greater emphasis on prosecuting them. Last summer the department said it had increased gun crime prosecutions nearly 23 percent.
U.S. Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch said the arrests demonstrated the department's commitment to enforcing the laws already on the books.
"Stemming the flow of illegal firearms into our neighborhoods by keeping them out of the hands of those who either purchase them illegally or are prohibited by law from possessing them is a top priority of this office and of our law enforcement partners," he said in a release.
The ATF said so-called "lie-and-buy" prosecutions are important because those who try to purchase firearms illegally are more likely to use the gun in a violent crime.
"When individuals illegally purchase firearms for persons who are prohibited under federal law to possess a firearm, also known as a ‘straw purchase,' there is a likelihood that firearm could be used in a crime of violence," Mickey Leadingham, Special Agent in Charge for the ATF Boston Field Division, said. "ATF is committed to vigorously investigating violations of federal firearm laws in order to reduce gun violence and protect our communities."
Most of those arrested during the initiative have been charged with lying on a federal background check form while attempting to purchase firearms. A number have also been charged with lying to a federal agent. Four of the suspects were also charged with illegally selling firearms as well.
"Through cooperative investigation and prosecution of illegal firearm purchases, we have successfully taken dozens of illegal firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals, which has undoubtedly saved lives," Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said.