Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Remarks On Gun Violence From U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall

U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall
On January 28 in Portland, the Oregon Alliance to Prevent Gun Violence, of which Ceasefire Oregon is a member, met for a strategy summit.  We were proud to have, as the opening speaker, S. Amanda Marshall, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon.  

Nominated by President Barack Obama in November of 2010, Ms. Marshall was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September of 2011.  As the chief federal law enforcement officer in Oregon, she oversees prosecution of all federal crimes and civil matters on behalf of the United States.  She manages a staff of more than 100 people in three offices in Portland, Eugene and Medford.

Thank you, Ms. Marshall, for your continued work to make our communities safer!

Below is the text of her remarks from the Summit around the issues of gun violence and the need for universal background checks for gun purchases, published with her approval as a guest blogger:

Thank you Oregon Alliance to Prevent Gun Violence for inviting me today and for the work you do to enhance the safety of all Oregonians. It’s a privilege to stand with so many dedicated community leaders as we continue our discussion about how we can – and why we must – take action to prevent the gun violence that devastates too many lives and communities every day.

Horrific events of the recent past in Aurora, Colorado; in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Newtown, Connecticut; and here in Clackamas - were shocking reminders of how gun violence devastates communities.  On a daily basis, these unspeakable tragedies are compounded by countless individual tragedies that take place on our streets, often unnoticed; and that too frequently take the lives of our children.

 For me – and for my colleagues across the Justice Department – responding to this senseless violence, and preventing future tragedies, constitutes a top priority.   That’s why, last year, Attorney General Eric Holder, along with Vice President Biden and a number of Cabinet members created a comprehensive plan for reducing gun violence and making our neighborhoods and schools more secure.   The plan included a range of legislative proposals – along with a series of 23 executive actions, most of which the Justice Department has made significant progress in implementing. 

 For instance, the Department is investing more than $20 million this fiscal year to strengthen the firearm background check system – by improving states’ abilities to share information with the NICS.   This grant funding is intended to enhance reporting of prohibiting mental health information, convictions, and active warrants.   In addition, last September, the Attorney General issued guidance to all federal agencies that will require federal law enforcement to trace all guns recovered in investigations.   Justice Department is also continuing to review gun safety technology innovations – and taking a look at all prohibitors.

My office aggressively prosecutes crimes involving the unlawful use and possession of firearms. In fact, the District of Oregon ranks third in the Ninth Circuit, ahead of much larger offices.

One in every five cases prosecuted federally in Oregon last year involved illegal use or possession of a firearm. Most of Oregon homicides and suicides involve a firearm.

We prosecute offenders through our project safe neighborhood initiative that woks with state, federal, tribal, and local law enforcement partners to put armed career criminals behind bars. We also work with the ATF, and other law enforcement agencies, in more targeted and proactive investigations to get guns out of the hands of criminals on our streets. 

One of those investigations has gotten some press recently.  What the coverage fails to point out is that Operation Kraken, an undercover, storefront investigation in 2010, led to the seizure of 80 guns from drug dealers and drug users, convicted felons, undocumented foreign nationals and gang members or combinations thereof.   

This investigation was designed to remove a large number of gun-toting criminals from the community and to seize the firearms they had access to, and that is exactly what happened. The 48 people prosecuted in this case had a combined total of 340 arrests and 125 felony convictions for things like assault, rape, robbery, burglary, and drug dealing.  Not people we want walking around with guns. Unfortunately these successful public safety outcomes have been lost, or simply not relevant to the narrative the reporter was trying to spin.

In addition to enforcement, we need better laws to give us tools to keep guns it of the hands of criminals.

Requiring all gun purchasers to undergo a criminal background check is a rational way to fill the gaping hole in our current system that allows crooks to bypass the process most gun owners willingly go through. The procedure takes about five minutes and every year prevents about 80,000 prohibited people nationwide from getting a gun.  In Oregon, 2,378 gun sales were stopped in 2012 after buyers failed a background check.

Nationwide, about 40 percent of guns are bought from private parties without a background check. Those seeking to avoid scrutiny can easily do so. Recent polls show that 94 percent of police chiefs, 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of all Americans support universal background checks. Still, lawmakers, both State and Federal, failed to pass legislation that would have fixed the loophole.

Would expanding background checks end gun violence? Certainly not. We need proactive, multidisciplinary strategies that address youth and gang violence, an overhaul of our mental health system, and a cultural shift toward compassion and community and away from cynicism and isolation.

But while we are working on that, we should note that states requiring background checks for all gun sales have seen gun trafficking reduced by half and a significant decrease in domestic violence homicides where guns were used.

Lawbreakers will continue to commit crimes. But as crime fighters, we need tools that make it harder for criminals to obtain guns and hold those who help them accountable. Don't we owe it to our children and families to do whatever we can?

I know that, with the support of countless ordinary citizens – and the expertise and assistance of the leaders in this room – we can take the common-sense steps we need to stop gun violence and keep deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands.   I recognize, as you do, that there’s no easy fix for addressing these challenges and confronting their underlying causes.   But I also know that those whose lives have been impacted by gun violence – the victims and the survivors – are depending on us.