DOJ Announces Plan to Prosecute More Gun Crimes, Assist in Arming School Officials

'No child should have to fear going to school or walking the streets of their neighborhood'

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions / Getty Images
March 14, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that the Department of Justice would begin work to better protect schools from attacks like the one that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Sessions said the department would be taking a number of steps in support of the plan announced on the same day by the White House. He announced a new initiative to increase the number of school resource officers, provide firearms training to school personnel, and ramp up the number of gun crime prosecutions. He said the changes are necessary to keep school kids safe.

"No child should have to fear going to school or walking the streets of their neighborhood," Sessions said in a statement. "Today, I am directing the Department of Justice to take a number of new steps that will help make schools and the American people safer from the threat of gun violence."

He said the department's actions will ensure more criminals are disarmed and Americans are better protected.

"We are increasing the number of school resource officers, improving background checks and more aggressively prosecuting those who illegally attempt to purchase a firearm, and reviewing and enhancing the way our law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public," Sessions said. "Under my tenure as attorney general, we have already increased federal gun prosecutions to a 10-year high—and we are just getting started. With these new measures in place, we are better positioned to disarm criminals and protect the law-abiding people of this country."

The DOJ plans to leverage existing programs like the National Training and Technical Assistance Center and VALOR initiative to support state and local efforts to provide firearms and situational awareness training to both law enforcement and school personnel. It also plans to prioritize grant applications for state and local requests to hire more school resource officers.

Sessions said the DOJ remains committed to Trump's plan of using current regulatory authority to reclassify, and effectively ban, bump-fire stocks and has already submitted notice of its plan to implement a new regulation to that end. He ordered federal prosecutors to "swiftly and aggressively" prosecute cases against felons and other prohibited persons who try to buy firearms but are unable to do so because they fail a background check—often called "lie and try" cases. He also touted the department's record of prosecuting violent crimes, which he said was at a record pace, and said the department would continue to increase those prosecutions.

Sessions also called on all federal agencies who submit records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to either certify over the next 45 days that they are currently reporting all of the criminal and mental health records required by law or have a plan to fix their procedures. Similarly, he called on state governments to improve reporting of their own disqualifying criminal and mental health records and said DOJ would provide them with reports on missing or mishandled information.

He ordered an immediate review of the way the department handles violent crime tips it receives in the wake of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's failure to follow up on several tips it received regarding the Parkland shooter's threats to shoot people.

Sessions said the DOJ would also help states who want to implement so-called Extreme Risk Protection Orders that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge for the ability to confiscate firearms for a limited period of time from an individual they have evidence is a threat to themselves or others.

The AG said the department would also fully participate in the Federal Commission on School Safety, which is set to be headed by Education Secretary Betsy Devos.