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Firearms flow into the target of the new federal strike force

A new federal strike force launched by the US Department of Justice on Thursday will focus on disrupting illegal arms flows to Los Angeles from neighboring states while targeting local “ghost gun” makers , according to local and federal authorities.

The two sources of weapons are a major driver of violence in Los Angeles, and local officials hope their disruption will help stem rising levels of shootings and homicides in the city.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said ghost guns – many of which are made locally – now make up a third of all guns recovered by the LAPD. Others, he said, come from known trafficking routes to LA by vendors in Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

“Suspects go to these places,” Moore said, “buy these guns because of lax or permissive gun laws, then traffic those guns here and sell them in the market to people who aren’t legally in it. able to own or own or purchase a weapon. ”

The new federal effort will target the “heavy players” responsible for manufacturing or moving large quantities of weapons around the city, “because the idea is to interrupt the supply cycle,” Moore said.

He will be less likely to focus on federal gun licensees known to sell guns in the Los Angeles area, Moore said, because “there are a limited number in this area, they are fine. monitored, they are well managed, [and] they are well supervised by the ATF and frankly by our gun.

“These are the underground providers, the unlicensed ones,” Moore said. “These are individuals who absolutely sell products in an underground market.”

Federal officials have touted the launch of five of these teams Thursday – in Los Angeles; New York; Chicago; Washington DC; and the San Francisco Bay Area – as reflecting the Biden administration’s commitment to ending the growing gun violence in the country.

“Too often, guns found at crime scenes come from hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away. We are redoubling our efforts as the ATF works with law enforcement to track the movement of illegal firearms used in violent crimes, ”US Atty. General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “These strike forces allow for sustained coordination across multiple jurisdictions to help disrupt the worst gun trafficking corridors. “

Shootings and homicides have increased nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year and associated social and economic shutdowns. LA was no exception.

As of Tuesday, homicides were up nearly 30% from last year and shootings by 43%. The city ended 2020 with 350 homicides, the most in a decade.

To help disrupt the violence, federal strike forces, led by agents from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, “will share information and otherwise collaborate between districts where arms trafficking programs fire cross state or jurisdictional borders to concentrate against entire trafficking networks, ”the Department of Justice said.

He said the teams would do so “from places where weapons are obtained illegally to areas where they are used to commit violent crimes”.

Moore said the initiative would “not change the whole world,” as the LAPD and other agencies are already working with the ATF on such investigations, but would strengthen those efforts.

In addition to federal agents teaming up with more local officers and detectives, officials said federal prosecutors will coordinate with strike forces to review cases and prosecute anyone who violates federal trafficking laws. firearms – which can carry harsher penalties than state cases.

Moore said he hoped the heightened threat of federal prosecution would serve as a new deterrent for would-be gun traffickers, who he said are motivated by greed.

“Make no mistake about it. The people who sell these guns and traffic are doing it for a reason: almighty money,” Moore said. “We have to create a consequence for this that deters them. others to get in while we eliminate the ones that are causing, in my opinion, are fueling this bloodshed. “

Moore said the LAPD knew there were specific pipelines that land guns in the hands of LA criminals as these guns are recovered during police investigations and then traced back to their origins by LAPD detectives. .

“You can ride a bike and follow them to a parking lot in the trunk of a vehicle at a gun show in Arizona,” Moore said, as an example.

In other cases, people arrested with phantom weapons admit they were bought in the growing “underground market” for these weapons in Los Angeles, he said.

Such avenues for guns to land on the streets of LA are constantly evolving and, as a result, are difficult to permanently disrupt, Moore said. However, the additional federal resources will help in the fight, he said, including in southern LA and other areas of the city that have been hit hardest by the recent violence.

“It’s not like we have a pipeline where, well, we just cut the pipe,” Moore said. “The adversaries are adjusting their tactics, adjusting their routes, and we will pursue them. “

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