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Feds announce strike forces to tackle illegal gun trafficking in major cities

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during an

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during an event on gun control in the Rose Garden at the White House April 8. Credit: Getty Images/Alex Wong

With violent crime on the rise, the Justice Department announced Tuesday that it will launch a series of "strike forces" directed at tackling illegal gun trafficking in five major cities, including New York.

The initiative, which will be the subject of a meeting Wednesday between Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Joe Biden, comes amid double-digit increases in murder and violent crime nationwide.

"Our firearms trafficking strike forces will investigate and disrupt the networks that channel crime guns into our communities with tragic consequences," Garland said. "This effort reflects our shared commitment to keep communities safe."

The strike forces will focus on trafficking corridors that channel guns into New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area and Washington, D.C., officials said.

The effort will be led by local U.S. attorneys coordinating with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and state and local law enforcement.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, which includes Long Island, said they will be involved in the effort and would comment on the initiative in the coming days.

The strike force teams will share information and collaborate in locations where firearm trafficking schemes cross state or jurisdictional boundaries — from locales where guns are illegally purchased to areas where they're used to commit violent crimes, Justice officials said.

The Trump administration launched a similar effort in 2020. Operation Legend, named for a 4-year-old boy who was killed by a wayward bullet as he slept in his Kansas City home, deployed hundreds of investigators to nine cities with rising crime, prioritizing the arrest of violent criminals.

The White House will also host a meeting Wednesday with local mayors, law enforcement experts and community activists where Biden is expected announce a series of executive orders aimed at reducing gun violence, aides said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president will also renew his calls for Congress to pass gun control legislation that has been blocked by Senate Republicans.

"There need to be reforms of police systems across the country," Psaki said Tuesday. "The president is a firm believer in that. But there are also steps he can take as president of the United States to help address and hopefully reduce that crime. A big part of that, in his view, is putting in place gun safety measures … using the bully pulpit but also using levers at his disposal as president."

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco Tuesday called the upward trend of violent crime "staggering" and "sobering" and said the department will ensure that traffickers who provide weapons to violent offenders are an enforcement priority.

"It’s something that DOJ is committed to do all we can to reverse what are profoundly troubling trends," Monaco said at a forum held by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum.

In April, Biden directed the Justice Department to draft measures to address the unregulated sale of kits used to assemble "ghost guns" — homemade firearms that lack serial numbers — which avoid background checks and remain largely untraceable.

With The Associated Press

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