The Justice Department has been investigating new ways to curb gun violence in the United States, including expanding and automating earlier this year the federal databases used in background checks on gun purchasers and coming up with new ideas for legislation to be considered by Congress and the White House.
A working group made up of officials from around the Justice Department and the department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had been working on some recommendations before 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record on this issue, confirmed the working group's existence, which was first reported by The New York Times. The newspaper also reported the group considered asking Congress to increase criminal penalties for "straw" purchasers — those people who buy guns for others who cannot pass a federal background check.
The Justice Department refused Monday to confirm the group's existence, talk about any of its recommendations or comment on whether it will now try to come up with other proposals on gun safety.
Justice officials did say that since the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that killed six and wounded 13 including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the department has on its own expanded and improved the databases used for background checks on gun buyers.
Last April, the department decided to include into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is one of the databases used by the FBI in gun background checks, the names of people who are banned from owning guns by state law. Federal officials also expanded the information that can be submitted to the Interstate Identification Index to help identify whether some state misdemeanors would make a person ineligible to own a gun under federal law.
The Justice Department also in May automated its NICS submission system so that all federal indictments, convictions, and arrest warrant information under its control are automatically fed into the NICS, instead of relying on individual law enforcement officers and prosecutors to manually load the information. Officials said that as a result, critical information from nearly 113,000 pending indictments and criminal charges filed across the country have been instantly fed into the NICS Index.