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Garland urges Congress to pass gun safety laws

The attorney general's call to action comes after 19 students and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school three weeks ago.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Attorney General Merrick Garland is urging Congress to pass gun safety legislation in the wake of deadly mass shootings that have rocked the United States in recent months. 

Garland called on lawmakers to pass gun control measures while speaking at a Monday afternoon press conference at the Justice Department headquarters in Washington. 

“In recent weeks, mass shooting after mass shooting has taken the lives of children in their classrooms, beloved community members doing their grocery shopping and worshipers gathering at their church,” Garland said. 

He added, “So as our agents and prosecutors work to get crime guns out of our communities, we are also committed to doing everything we can to support the bipartisan gun safety negotiations that are taking place in Congress as we speak.” 

The attorney general’s comments come one day after a bipartisan group of senators came to an agreement on a framework for a gun safety bill designed in the aftermath of deadly mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a church in Laguna Woods, California. 

The framework – which has enough Republican backing to push through the narrowly divided Senate – calls for so-called red flag laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, as well as background checks for buyers under 21. 

It also aims to tamp down on “straw purchasers” who use a federal firearms license to legally buy a gun before reselling it illegally. Garland said straw buyers are among the “major drivers of violent crime.” 

During Monday’s press conference, he highlighted a July 7 indictment charging accused straw purchaser Demontre Hackworth with firearms trafficking offenses. 

Between 2019 to 2021, Hackworth allegedly used his federal firearms license to purchase at least 92 firearms from licensed dealers. Data from ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network reportedly linked at least 16 of the guns to multiple shootings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. 

“The indictment also charges that three separate times over a three-month period last year, the defendant falsely stated to a federal firearms licensee that he was the actual transferee and buyer of the firearms — when in fact he was not,” Garland said. 

ATF agents arrested Hackworth on Friday. He is charged with one count of dealing firearms without a license and three counts of making false statements during the purchase of a firearm. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison. 

“This case is just one example of the efforts the Justice Department is taking to protect our communities from violent crime, and from the illegal gun trafficking that often drives it,” Garland said. 

The attorney general also said he has directed federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents to prioritize prosecutions of those responsible for the most gun violence. 

Last week, he assigned a team to study failures in the response by Uvalde, Texas, police to the May 24 shooting at an elementary school that left 19 students and two teachers dead.  

The school district police chief has since faced public criticism that he waited too long to send law enforcement into the school, where the massacre is said to have lasted for up to an hour before police killed the gunman after breaking into a classroom where he had barricaded himself. 

At the end of his prepared remarks, Garland urged the Senate to act “swiftly” to confirm his pick to lead the ATF, former federal prosecutor Steve Dettelbach.  

“Our agents and ATF’s critical mission deserve nothing less,” Garland said. 

If approved by the Senate, Dettelbach would be the ATF's first permanent director in seven years. 

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