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AG Sessions pushes to punish those who lie to buy guns

by Pete Williams /  / Updated 

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WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged federal prosecutors Monday to bring criminal charges against people who falsely claim they're legally entitled to buy a gun, one of a series of steps the Justice Department is taking to help improve school safety.

"No child should have to fear going to school or walking the streets of their neighborhood," Sessions said.

While it's a federal crime to lie on the form a buyer submits to purchase a gun, the offense seldom results in arrests or charges. Sessions said he is urging the nation's U.S. attorneys to "swiftly and aggressively" prosecute people who falsely declare that they are free of disqualifying factors.

Prosecutions of what is known as the crime of "lie and try" in the past have been rare, averaging about 30 cases a year, because they are difficult to prove and considered low priorities. But Sessions is urging U.S. attorneys to bring charges when would-be buyers pose a risk of violence.

Related: Australia’s mandatory gun buyback inspires U.S. activists, but few lawmakers

Hoping to improve the amount of data in the gun background check database, Sessions also said he has directed the FBI to identify states and localities that are lax in reporting criminal history and mental health records. While reporting such information is voluntary, Justice Department officials said Sessions would use the FBI's findings to encourage states to do better.

He said the COPS program that provides grant money for hiring more police officers will give priority to applicants seeking to hire more school resource officers — law enforcement officers present in schools. And the Justice Department will use other grant programs to give firearms and emergency response training to teachers and school administrators.

On Saturday, the Justice Department proposed a federal regulation that would ban the manufacture, sale and possession of bump stocks — devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. The proposed rule will soon be published to solicit public comment.

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