- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday announced new Justice Department guidelines aimed at barring access to firearms by felons, illegal aliens and others who cannot legally own weapons, and at preventing and punishing gun violence in the nation's schools.
During a press conference, Mr. Ashcroft said three initiatives are designed to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, while a fourth known as "Project Sentry" will focus on "prosecuting gun crimes committed at our nation's schools and protecting juveniles from gun crime."
"The president has emphasized that America's war on terrorism must involve the combined resources of federal, state and local governments," he said. "Project Sentry applies the same approach to the problem of school-related gun violence."
Mr. Ashcroft said each of the nation's 94 U.S. attorney's offices will be assigned a Project Sentry coordinator to help facilitate partnerships among federal, state and tribal governments. The partnerships, or task forces, will involve law enforcement authorities, community groups and school personnel to help prosecute and supervise juveniles who violate federal and state firearms laws.
The task forces also will target for prosecution adults who illegally provide firearms to juveniles.
"This administration is committed to providing the resources needed to make Project Sentry a success," he said, noting that in addition to the $9 million necessary to hire project coordinators, the Justice Department will allocate $20 million to help fund the partnerships.
Mr. Ashcroft also instructed the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, to deny gun transfers to those aliens prohibited from purchasing weapons under existing federal law.
The FBI, which administers the NICS program, now will work with the INS to check the immigration status of noncitizens who seek to buy a gun. Mr. Ashcroft said when a federally licensed firearms dealer now calls the NICS system, the FBI will ask whether the buyer is a citizen. If not, the call will be referred to the INS to determine the buyer's immigration status.
The FBI and the INS will "take all appropriate steps" to investigate any violations of law associated with an illegal alien's attempt to buy a firearm, Mr. Ashcroft said.
This would include any false statements made in the attempted purchase, which could draw charges.
The attorney general also ordered steps to improve the thoroughness and efficiency of background checks.
Under the new system, he said, calls that have previously been delayed will be routed immediately to a legal instruments examiner who will be able to review the gun buyer's full criminal history while on the phone with the dealer.
The Justice Department will continue to assist states in updating the criminal history records on which the NICS system relies, he said. Federal authorities have discovered that a number of states need to improve their criminal history records, especially records on mental illness adjudications and final dispositions of arrest charges.


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