WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland returns to his native Chicago on Thursday and Friday to bolster the city’s battle with unrelenting gun violence.
Garland, raised in north suburban Lincolnwood, will be in Chicago for the launch of firearms trafficking strike forces in five cities Thursday. In Chicago, he will visit a Chicago Police Department “strategic decision support center” in the afternoon.
In the evening, Garland will attend a “listening session” with people who are part of a program to reduce gun violence — with intervention and prevention a key element in President Joe Biden’s broader crime fighting package unveiled last month.
On Friday, Garland will meet with federal prosecutors and other federal law enforcement officials from around Illinois who will be part of the cross-jurisdictional strike forces.
The new long-term strategy includes a crackdown on straw purchasers who buy guns in Indiana, the suburbs and the rest of the state that end up being used in shootings in Chicago.
The strike forces are a new Biden administration initiative to reduce violent crime in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, New York and the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento area.
In Chicago, U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who runs the Northern Illinois operation, and the top ATF officials in Chicago will be responsible for implementing the new strategy, a DOJ official said. It includes enhanced and formalized new coordination between Lausch and the U.S. attorneys in central and southern Illinois and Indiana.
While Chicago has long prohibited the sale of firearms, weapons flowing to criminals from Indiana, other states and Chicago’s suburbs make the city’s ban ineffective.
Gun rights advocates have pointed to Chicago’s tough anti-gun laws — and the ongoing chronic violence — as so-called evidence that gun bans don’t work. The real world problem for Chicago, which shares a southern border with Indiana, are gun stores near the city and people — known as “straw purchasers” — who legally buy guns passed along to criminals.
For some time, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown have said the federal government needs to do more to stop the flow of illegal firearms to the city to prevent crime before it happens.
Lightfoot is expected to meet with Garland while he is in the city. When Garland was born, his parents lived near 79th Street and Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore.
Straw purchasers are people with clean records — no criminal or domestic violence history — who are able to clear federal background checks to legally purchase weapons they illegally pass on to someone who is not qualified to own a firearm.
A Justice Department official, outlining the program Tuesday, said federal agents and prosecutors will be told that firearms traffickers who provide “weapons to violent offenders are the enforcement priority across the country.”
The “strike forces,” the official said, “will help ensure sustained and focused coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement partners across jurisdictions to disrupt significant firearms trafficking corridors.
“The goal of this coordination effort is to disrupt the entire trafficking network from the place where guns originate, where they travel through other jurisdictions, to the places where they’re ultimately used to commit violent crime.”
The official said the plan does not include deploying extra agents to Chicago on a temporary basis.
That was a tactic used by former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department to fight violent crime in Chicago and other cities under the name of “Operation Legend.” On July 22, 2020, Trump’s Justice Department announced it was sending to Chicago more than 100 agents from the FBI, DEA and ATF to work with U.S. Attorney John Lausch. That program ended in December.
The Justice Department official said, “This is not a short-term infusion of resources; rather it’s a long term coordinated multi-jurisdictional strategy to ensure that disrupting these trafficking patterns remains a priority as long as necessary to address the problem.”
On June 23, President Joe Biden and Garland announced the administration’s gun violence prevention strategy at the White House and promised the strike forces within a month.
On July 7, when Biden made his first presidential visit to Chicago — hours after two ATF agents and a Chicago police officer were shot — Lightfoot asked Biden to speed up the timetable for promised help. Brown, at a White House meeting on July 12 to discuss the president’s crime fighting strategies, said Garland made a “significant commitment” to help the city where he was born.
At the Tuesday briefing, an ATF official noted that “firearm tracking schemes can be relatively low volume, which often makes it hard to detect until guns are recovered in crimes.
“So occasionally we will see large recoveries, but think less of tractor trailer loads of firearms and think more of ants marching from one place to another.”