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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 8, 1996
                           PRESS BRIEFING

The Briefing Room

1:24 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I think most of you had an opportunity to hear the President's launch of his gun initiative earlier today. What I'd like to do is, just for questions and answers and any follow-up you might have, ask our new Under Secretary for enforcement at the Department of Treasury, Ray Kelly, to answer any questions you might have. He's been on the job all of 11 days now and reports to me that today is his first day in his office because of the fire at the Treasury Department. So he's been doing a lot of work. Also, as you know, he was very prominent during the recent apprehension of the militia groups in Phoenix.

So, Ray, we're delighted to have you here today. Also some other folks are here from Treasury, and call on them as you see fit.

Under Secretary Kelly.

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Thank you. Any questions?

Q Memphis received a grant of $170,000 a year ago from Justice to start tracking this same very thing. They interviewed over 400 juveniles. So far there have been two indictments of people for transferring guns to juveniles. That doesn't sound like a big dent in the gun traffic. And I'd really like you to address how you're going to -- what do you do in situations when guns are stolen? It doesn't seem to me how your tracking it back to the dealer is going to help.

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Well, maybe that's a question more appropriately for Justice, but I think what's changed here is a whole new technological approach. Software is developed -- Project LEAD, which enables now the -- enables ATF to aggregate information that prior to this was put through a tracing system, but no real trends were able to be developed. So I think what we're saying is the process that you're talking about is now going to be much more efficient, it's going to be speeded up. And as you build this information base, we go back to federal prosecutors and local prosecutors, and then they carry the ball.

So I can't speak specifically about what happened in Memphis, I just see this as a very positive move. We are gathering this information. We are increasing the information base.

What's significant that happened today -- it happened with this conference -- is you have a signing-off, you have a contract, in effect, by local police, by federal prosecutors, and by state prosecutors that they are going to take every crime gun and put it into the national tracing system.

Prior to this it was voluntary, and it was, quite frankly, spotty. Now you have this commitment that it is going to happen with every gun. What does that do? Again, it just increases the information base. And with the new software of Operation LEAD, you then take that base and you analyze it and you're able to get information. And from what I've seen so far, it's really quite amazing as far as the identification of where guns are coming from.

Q And if the gun is stolen you can't prosecute anybody, is that correct?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: If the gun is stolen, we can't prosecute anybody?

Q If somewhere in the chain somebody reports that a gun is stolen and it winds up in the hands of juveniles, you can't go back and prosecute -- even if you know who sold the gun originally you can't go back and prosecute that individual, correct?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: It depends on the individual case and the facts. I think what this says is -- and there is an example of a case in St. Louis where an individual licensed firearms dealer had illegally sold 450 guns. A very laborious, labor-intensive investigation brought that information to the fore, and there was an arrest and a conviction, and this person is in jail.

Now this new technology package enables you to do that identification of who is providing these guns I think much more efficiently. As far as who -- if a gun was stolen, you have to be able to show the appropriate frame of mind, and if it was stolen, is there any liability, criminal liability? I don't believe so.

Q Why would not a police department investigating an illegal use of a handgun want to trace the owner before this program existed?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: To a certain extent it was perhaps apathy. And I think just in the last couple of years have guns begun in large numbers to go to the tracing center. I believe it went from 80,000 two years ago to 120,000. And probably a belief that maybe not much could be done as far as tracing a gun. Now, I believe that's changing, and now we have this signed commitment on the part of people to submit every gun to the National Tracing Center.

Q Did that attitude exist when you ran the New York City Police Department?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: No. As a matter of fact, New York City is a leader. I started a task force with ATF in 1990. Not because I was there, but I can tell you that New York, percentage-wise, is the biggest participant in this pilot program and it has proven to be successful there.

Q Sir, I understand that most of these guns now that you're working on handguns in the hands of gangs, what do you think causes gangs to be formed and get started?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: I think that's a very complex question. For instance, there are cities in this country that have major gang problems and there are other cities that have no gang problem at all. And some gangs form around drugs and the drug trade. New York, for instance, the city that I'm most familiar with, has some drug gangs, but relative to other big cities, obviously New York being the biggest, in relation to the size, New York has a relatively small gang problem. So I don't think there's an easy answer to that question.

Q I'm still a little foggy about what's new here today. Isn't this a program that's already been in place? I talked to somebody in the District, this has been going on in the District and you said New York City. I mean what has changed as a result of today's events?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Okay. In 1993, 1994 an announcement came out saying that the ATF is going to trace guns -- juveniles. But, again, ATF can only do that based on the compliance and the willingness of local police agencies to submit their guns to ATF, to go through the National Tracing Center.

So during this next two-year period, software is developed called Operation LEAD, a project. What that software enables ATF to do is look at this universe of tracings and analyze them and aggregate them and take a look and see what dealers are involved, see more information as far as, perhaps, involved with gangs or with drugs. So that comes on-line or is developed in '95. It's then -- you start distributing this in, I believe, February '96 to 17 ATF offices.

Now, again, prior to this we still had -- it was still based on the voluntary cooperation of local police agencies. Today what you have are representatives from those 17 cities, representing the police, the federal prosecutors and the state prosecutors, all signing on saying, yes, they're going to submit all of their guns --every crime gun that's seized will be put through the National Tracing Center process.

Now, it's been used in the past to link a gun to a specific crime. Now what we have is the use of that universe of information to analyze where guns are coming from, and a commitment on the part of the localities to submit their guns through this system, through the process.

Q Have you had a problem with local cities not reporting the guns even though they had the software and were in this program?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: To the best of my knowledge, the 17 cities have been cooperative and are enthusiastic about it and it hasn't been a problem in that regard. What we want to do, of course, ultimately -- hopefully this will be successful, we want to get other cities on board to do the same thing. We want cities now who are not in this project, of course, to submit their crime guns to the ATF National Tracing Center.

Q All that happened today was 17 cities signed these voluntary compliance agreements, but they have, in fact, already been complying for months; is that right?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: I don't know to what degree. I can tell you they have been enthusiastic. But now not only is it the police department, it's the federal prosecutor and the state prosecutor, local prosecutor signing on. As you can well imagine, when you have three jurisdictional levels, there may have been some turf issues, and I'm only speculating, there may have been some lack of cooperation. Here we have, in essence, a contract in these 17 cities to go forward with.

Q What percentage of all gun crimes are committed by juveniles?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: That's a difficult question. Anybody have an answer along those lines?

Q Well, the reason I ask that, I'm wondering why this is called a youth gun initiative.

             UNDER SECRETARY KELLY:  Well, it's called --
             Q  -- mean that this would be applicable to all gun

crimes, would it not?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: It is applicable to all gun crimes, but there are finite resources. And the murder rate, as was said before, has gone up significantly for young people in the last 15 years. Indeed, murders of juveniles have gone up threefold in the last 15 years. And homicides, killings by juveniles have quadrupled in the last 10 years. So this is the -- appears to be the population sector most at risk.

So what you have here is this program -- yes, it's applicable to guns used by anybody, but the difference here is since you have finite resources, funds have been made available to do intensified investigations, if you will, on the part of ATF and hopefully in cooperation and collaboration with localities when it appears that guns are being used by young people.

This is a process whereby the ATF SAICs, the office heads, go back to headquarters and say we have this preliminary information that indicates that there are young people involved. Then that turns on the spigot for this fund of money.

Q But you wouldn't pay that same amount of attention to a gun that was in the hands of an adult that had killed somebody?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: What we're saying is, yes, there are some limitations in terms of how much of an in-depth investigation you can do about a gun. We are focusing on those guns involved with juvenile population.

Q I understand youth crime is on the rise, but you can't tell me what percentage of youth crime is in relation to the ration between youth crime and overall gun crimes?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: I can't tell you, but I think it's something we believe to be significant and we can get you that number.

Q I'm still a little confused as why a crime committed by a youth holding a gun is more significant or would receive more attention from the Justice Department in terms of tracing that weapon than would a gun used by an adult.

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Well, I think what you said is the homicide rate is skyrocketing. I think probably the most violent sector of our population, whatever age you want to start at 13 to 14 to 19 years of age, that's where violence is occurring and it's occurring among young people. Finite resources available; where do you focus? Where do you look? Where do you put your money? In this case it's $2 million. And the decision has been made to create a process whereby you go if, in fact, we can establish that there are young people involved in this particular crime or series of crimes then that's going to unleash or release additional funds for ATF and localities to do investigations there.

So it's a question of making a judgment, where do you put your emphasis.

Q Do you have any reason to believe that guns used by kids are newer or easier to trace than guns used by older criminals?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Yes, there is. And there is --a kind of a trend indicates that young people want newer guns, it's a status symbol, and that there are better records being kept on guns that are just, let's say, in the last two to three years that have been purchased during that period of time. So an indication of both a desire on the part of juveniles for newer guns and also the ability to trace, I think, in a more effective way with newer guns.

Q How did you pick these 17 cities and why not more? I mean, 17 is only a handful. Obviously, they are fairly large cities --

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: The cities were picked based on their level of cooperation and enthusiasm. Of course, they all have ATF offices there, SAIC offices. And I think that was a major factor.

Q Sir, can you say what happens -- drugs are largely the cause of this; who gets the drugs into this country and into the hands of the youth, how do these drugs importers get in touch with the youth?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Well, I think we know that drugs come in a lot of different ways. They come by air and ship and people driving through. U.S. Customs, among others, has a major Southwest border initiative, for instance, to attempt to stop the flow. It's been, from what I can see, somewhat successful, but it's still a major problem. And drugs are coming in in a variety of ways.

Q Can you give us an idea of how much this program costs and how much it costs to develop the software?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: It's about $2 million in funding available. About $300,000 of that is for a research component that will involve NIJ -- National Institute of Justice -- and ATF to do a more in-depth examination, particularly as far as young people are concerned. So there's $1.7 million that has been freed up through forfeiture funds to allow for the additional funding that I spoke about to --

Q Is that for a year?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: Pardon me? For youth?

Q For a year, or how long --

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: I believe it's for a year. And we'll see --

Q -- the cities or law enforcement --

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: It goes to the ATF offices themselves, the ATF investigators themselves.

Q Does the Brady Bill deal with any of this? Doesn't it help track weapons already?

UNDER SECRETARY KELLY: The Brady Bill, the information gathered from the Brady Bill, is helpful. That's the type of source information that we need. But some of these weapons, of course, were coming down the pike before the Brady Bill.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:40 P.M. EDT