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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

June 29, 2009

Acting Director Kenneth Melson’s Remarks at the National Association of School Resource Officers National Conference

Baltimore, Maryland

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here in Charm City, and it’s a particular honor to be invited to speak to members of an organization for which I have so much respect and admiration.

It is of great concern to us when violent incidents happen at school or on school grounds. Such events are always a parent’s worst nightmare.

ATF is working hard, through our firearms trafficking initiative, to keep guns out of the wrong hands and to certainly keep them as far away from schools as we possibly can.

But it happens all too often. Our students — our children, are being visited by violence ON school grounds. Not too long ago, in a large Midwestern city, some kids were coming out of a high school basketball game – a fun Friday night for kids. But that night, walking out of the gym, kids were shot at –and 6 were wounded some critically — as they went out for a fun Friday night. It is not known if those wounded were the specific targets, but kids who shoot other kids are NOT carrying legal firearms and that is a problem that we have addressed.

ATF is the federal agency with exclusive jurisdiction in firearms and weapons trafficking investigation. We respond to, and investigate nationally all school-related shootings and firearms violations.

We work in partnership with NASRO to constantly evaluate firearms trends among juveniles, as well as firearms-related gang activity in our schools.

I am sure you are aware of this, but let me put it out there: Criminal gangs are in each of the 50 states of this country – in DC and in the commonwealths. That means there are gangs in Iowa - in Maine, in the Virgin Islands, and in Alaska! Not only that, but approximately 1 million – let me repeat that – 1 million gang members belong to 20,000 gangs.

Over the years at ATF, we have worked to develop innovative law enforcement initiatives to assist police officers assigned to school systems nationwide. We want to stanch the flow of the blood that results from the gang wars — the turf wars that are fought over drugs and drug money using trafficked firearms.

ATF and law enforcement partners have developed focused enforcement strategies to investigate, arrest, and submit for prosecution repeat violent offenders, prohibited persons, domestic and international firearms traffickers, and others who illegally attempt to acquire firearms.

We are instituting firearms trafficking teams to combat this violence. We are At The Frontline and in 2007, ATF investigations resulted in the conviction of more than 800 firearms traffickers. That is a start to keeping our kids a little bit safer every day.

Let me tell you a little about our firearms trafficking initiative:

We want to shut off the sources of illegal firearms to violent offenders and to people who cannot and should not be buying firearms.

Since there is no way legally for a convicted felon, a drug trafficker, or a juvenile gang member to obtain a firearm, these violent offenders rely on firearms traffickers (those persons and organizations willing to sell firearms without regard to the law) to make quality firearms readily available.

A part of our strategy involves our Industry Operations Investigators reviewing the business records of firearms dealers to ensure compliance with Federal regulations and paperwork. Often those who cannot legally purchase firearms will have some who is able, do it for them. This is known as the straw purchasing. We ask for cooperation from Federal Firearms Licensees who suspects a shady purchase and, quite frankly, we will go after the small percentage of bad dealers in order to protect or neighborhoods and our schools.

This program, called “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” is an educational program we developed in cooperation with the National Shoorting Sports Foundation and the firearms industry. It is a campaign to educate firearms dealers about gun purchases made on behalf of unauthorized buyers. It is another way ATF is attempting to make a difference.

In this fight, we also target and dismantle criminal street gangs of all types – Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Gangster Disciples — we are out there making sure their illegal firearms activities are not getting into our schools. We go undercover and we infiltrate, going after and getting convictions on large groups of associated criminals, known as gangs.

We target the worst of the worst offenders on street corners and in gangs with a number of proven task forces with local and State police departments that are active and proven in many cities.

For a small Federal agency that has a world-wide mission, we have the tools and resources with partners to drill down to specific city blocks to remove that one felon, that one menace, that one drug crewmember who is may be a threat to our children in our neighborhoods.

We have Violent Crime Impact Teams that are active in 31 cities. Teams made up of ATF agents and our law enforcement partners have arrested more than 15,130 gang members, drug dealers, felons-in-possession of a firearm, and “worst of the worst” violent criminals and we have recovered more than 18,700 firearms.

So as you can see, we are working towards the common mission that Richard Caster recently pointed out: To protect our nation’s children from random violence.

In a larger sense, NASRO and ATF are both working to achieve yet another common objective: Making our communities safer.

So it makes perfect sense that our two organizations are in the process of forming an even stronger partnership –a long-lasting, working partnership that will help us both achieve our shared goal of ensuring a safe and secure learning environment for America’s children.

ATF regards it as an honor to join with you in this noble effort.

I want teachers, school administrators, and resource officers to know that no matter where in the United States your school is located, there’s an ATF Field Division or area office near you.

Please regard the ATF agents in that office as a resource. Reach out to them when they can be of service to you.

I would encourage you –as teachers, administrators, and school resources officers– to establish a relationship and a rapport with your nearest ATF office.

We can provide training, education, and speakers who can come to your school and talk to you –or talk directly to your students– about a number of topics.

At ATF we like to portray ourselves as the “Violent Crime Police” –a hard-nosed law enforcement agency that takes guns off the street; that goes after violent gangs, the “Worst of the Worst.” We do all that, and we do it well.

But we have a softer side. Our special agents deal with violent criminals every day, but these highly trained, experienced crime fighters are also husbands, and wives, and parents with school-age children.

We have an ATF Agent at our Detroit Field Division, Special Agent George Goodman and his partner, ATF canine Haiku (HI-KOO), who mentor at-risk students at Central High School in Pontiac, Michigan.

George mentors simply by talking with at-risk kids, one on one.

There’s a student at Central High named Joey. He’s a troubled teenager, a kid who’s had some problems in his life. George tries to talk with Joey as often as he can. It’s gotten to the point where Joey will now go out of his way to find George, seek him out, so they can talk.

George also feels that if Joey had access to the internet, it might open up a whole new world of exploration, entertainment, and education for him.

So George is trying to find a computer that Joey can take home and use, and perhaps expand his universe into a limitless opportunity for learning and growth.

George also talked with the school board to see if he could keep Central High open during the summer months so students could have a place to go –a gymnasium, a swimming pool. Something to keep them busy during the warm months, and engaged, and out of trouble.

I cite George Goodman’s story for two reasons — first: with the work done by Agent Goodman, we can continue to fulfill the saying of “Reach One; Teach One”

And secondly, to drive home a simple point; an invitation, really: Don’t hesitate to reach out to your nearest ATF office. Like any good partner, ATF will be there for you.

I don’t think there’s a law enforcement officer in this room who is not aware of ATF’s long-standing reputation for being a good partner. We’ve worked for decades to establish that reputation. It’s a Force Multiplier; it’s how a little agency gets a Big Job done.

In your cities and counties and communities, chances are that ATF agents are partnering with local police or sheriff’s deputies or your state police now, as we speak, working an investigation together that will ultimately make your neighborhood a safer place to live.

We also want to make your schools a safer place for your kids to live, and learn, and grow.

The topic of this year’s conference is the widespread problem of bullying. It is, I think, an excellent and timely subject for us to be discussing.

Because it’s the bullied kid….the kid whose resentment and anger is slowly building up inside him… who might be the youngster more likely to resort to some kind of drastic action, such as suicide, or bringing a gun to school with the intention of using it.

I don’t think I need to provide any disturbing examples here. We’ve all seen those kinds of headlines, when something terrible happens in a school building, or on school grounds.

But I’ve been somewhat heartened, of late, that some potential tragedies have recently been circumvented by timely parental intervention.

These kinds of positive headlines don’t grab as much public attention as the grisly headlines. But they’re far more important.

Back in April, a 22-year-old was arrested in Texas on federal charges of possessing an unregistered short-barreled shotgun —just one of five firearms confiscated at his home by ATF agents and San Antonio police officers.

They also found hundreds of rounds of ammunition, body armor, and a notebook filled with detailed plans and notes about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.

This young man’s mother confronted her son one Monday morning as he was leaving her home, carrying his arsenal with him.

He reportedly told his mother he was going to get revenge for the harassment and physical abuse he allegedly endured while a student at his old high school.

He also told her this would be a good day to carry out his plan, since it was his birthday.

This mother was apparently able to calm her son and convince him to go to a hospital for treatment. She then called authorities, who safely took him into custody at the hospital.

We’ll never know how many lives were saved that day because of a mother in San Antonio who decided to engage in the courageous work of being a parent. Thank God she did.

This is an encouraging development. I hope it’s a trend.

An alert parent is the first line of defense. The second line of defense, however, is NOT ATF or some other law enforcement agency.

The second line of defense –and perhaps the last line of defense– is the alert teacher, the alert principal, the alert school resource officer, the alert school counselor.

We all realize now that a bullied kid –ANY bullied kid– can be a potential time bomb.

We also know that the bomb can be diffused if we become aware of it in time. It’s often just a matter of being alert — of paying attention.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. ATF is a firm believer in this philosophy, which is why we spend so much time trying to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The National Association of School Resource Officers, I know, is a firm believer in the Ounce of Prevention philosophy, which is why you’re all here today.

I and ATF look forward to a long and productive relationship with NASRO. Together, as partners, we can do good things.

It is an honor, and a privilege, for us to be partnered with an organization as important, as vital, as desperately needed, as the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Your support of the over 7,000 police officers assigned to schools across the United States is vital.

These officers form a line of defense that keeps our schools safe, our children protected.

You have my commitment that ATF will do everything we can to assist you as you continue providing that crucial support to those officers, as you continue doing the important work of keeping all our kids safe.

All you need to do is ask!

Thank you.