Garland has taken several steps to try and quell violence, but as 2021 drew to a close, he lamented that there was still work to be done.
“It is a terrible thing and a rise in crime began last year into this year, and it’s continued into this year,” Garland told reporters in December in reference to his hometown of Chicago, which has been ravaged by gun violence.
The attorney general pointed to efforts he had made there, describing how he had gone there to set up a gun violence trafficking task force and had meetings with the chief of police, as well as federal, state and local law enforcement.
Two weeks later, however, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called upon Garland to do more. The Democrat asked him to send in agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for six months to increase the number of gun investigations and gun seizures.
“The federal government remains uniquely qualified to help address the scourge of gun violence,” Lightfoot said. “We need these additional resources well in advance of next summer.”
That came more than half a year after Garland had announced a multipronged approach to addressing violence across the nation. In May, Garland’s Justice Department launched what he referred to as a “comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy.”
That strategy includes prioritizing enforcement, a commitment to “community-based prevention and intervention programs,” and building trust with communities. Part of the department’s trust-building effort is Project Safe Neighborhoods, which brings law enforcement officials and community members together to work on solutions.
Garland also said last summer that he would be making more federal resources available “to help prevent and disrupt violent crime and to focus on the most dangerous, most violent offenders.”
A major part of the attorney general’s strategy has been to crack down on guns. In 2021, the DOJ proposed a new rule that would place restrictions on “ghost guns,” or kits that allow the users to assemble their own firearms that do not have serial numbers and are therefore untraceable. The department also proposed a rule that would treat pistols with stabilizing braces the same as short-barreled rifles.
Garland also said he would have ATF go after federally licensed firearms dealers who break the law by failing to conduct background checks, falsify records, fail to cooperate with authorities or give guns to people who are not permitted to have them.
At the same time that the DOJ has tried to get violent crime under control, however, it has also been conducting investigations of several local police forces, such as Minneapolis, Phoenix, Mount Vernon, New York, and Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky. Those probes are aimed at looking into the departments’ policies and practices to see if they conducted “discriminatory policing” or violated people’s rights through other means, such as improper force or seizures.
One area in which conservatives slammed Garland for going too far was his response to incidents at school board meetings in various parts of the country. Following a letter from the National School Boards Association to President Biden calling for federal intervention to deal with a “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation,” Garland issued a memo calling for the FBI’s involvement.
This led to backlash from those who felt federal intervention was unnecessary and risked chilling speech that would be critical of school boards, as a number of the incidents cited by the NSBA’s letter had been nonviolent.
Garland defended the memo, and DOJ officials claimed federal law enforcement was only concerned with violence and threats of violence, despite the memo also mentioning “harassment” and “intimidation.”
That memo came under renewed criticism after an email exchange reviewed by Fox News revealed that the NSBA’s letter, which led to Garland’s memo, was the result of a request from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.