News Local/State

U.S. Attorney: New Initiative Will Improve Coordination To Curb Gun Violence

U.S. Attorney John Milhiser, left, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Ghrist during a recent WGLT interview.

U.S. Attorney John Milhiser, left, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Ghrist during a recent WGLT interview. Eric Stock/WGLT

The top federal prosecutor for central Illinois says a new anti-gun violence initiative will improve coordination between law enforcement agencies and keep more illegal weapons off the streets.

Attorney General William Barr announced Project Guardian last week. In addition to reinforcing efforts by ATF to work with state and local law enforcement partners, Barr said Project Guardian emphasizes the use of new technologies available to law enforcement to promote gun crime intelligence.

U.S. Attorney John Milhiser’s central district of Illinois includes 46 counties, including McLean and Peoria counties. Peoria alone has seen 16 gun homicides so far in 2019. Bloomington-Normal had nine in 2018.

Milhiser said gun violence is a serious problem that is “terrorizing certain communities.”

“When you look around the district, whether it’s Peoria, or Springfield, or Danville, or others, something has to be done. And that’s this initiative from the attorney general,” Milhiser said.

Project Guardian calls for better coordination between federal and local prosecutors to determine if a federal case is warranted. U.S. attorneys will also be tasked with working alongside ATF leaders to create new or revised guidelines for bringing federal cases against those who lie when trying to buy a gun. There are around 100,000 cases every year where someone lies on their background check, Milhiser said.

The initiative also calls for a more coordinated response when someone is denied access to a gun because of a mental health issue. U.S. attorneys will work with ATF and local law enforcement and mental departments to “assess the feasibility of adopting disruption and early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited individuals who attempt to acquire a firearm and to counter the threat of mass shootings,” according to a memo sent by Barr to American law enforcement Nov. 8.

Milhiser conceded that much of this coordination is already happening in central Illinois.

“What this does is dive a little deeper into the ATF sharing of information, and our office working with state and locals and ATF, and identifying these individuals who are committing gun crimes or illegally possessing guns,” Milhiser said.

Project Guardian has received a mixed response from those working on gun-violence prevention.

“The plan is a mixed bag — it’s also a small bag. Overall it fails to meet the moment and ignores the public’s call for broadly popular measures like background checks on all gun sales and strong red flag legislation,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “The bottom line is this: Come 2020, the public won’t forget that the president and his Senate allies have chosen the side of the gun lobby over the American public.”

Milhiser did not address that criticism directly.

“What I can say is, we’ve been tasked by the attorney general to do everything in our power in federal law enforcement to work with our partners to reduce gun violence, and that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said.

Ryan Denham is the Digital Content Director at WGLT in Normal. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWGLT.