Chairman Serrano Statement at Hearing on Gun Violence Prevention and Enforcement
Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY), Chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on gun violence prevention and enforcement:
The subcommittee will come to order.
Welcome everyone to our fourth hearing of the year. Today we are going to examine gun violence prevention and enforcement efforts. There is an epidemic of gun violence in our nation, and this subcommittee has a key role to play in the urgently needed response, as we oversee the federal law enforcement agencies tasked with overseeing gun dealers, investigating gun crimes, and running our background check system, among other things.
That is why I am pleased to welcome our two witnesses today, Thomas Brandon, the Deputy Director and Head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, otherwise known as the ATF, and Christine Halvorsen, the Acting Assistant Director for Criminal Justice Information Services, or CJIS at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. CJIS, among other things, operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, more commonly known as NICS.
Both agencies play a crucial role in preventing gun crimes before they occur, and investigating them once they do. You also have a key role in helping policymakers and the public to better understand how guns fall into the wrong hands, how our government oversees our nation’s firearms dealers and buyers, and what we need to prioritize. Both agencies also have a key role in working with state and local law enforcement in these goals.
There are a large number of issues that have raised concerns on both sides of the aisle in recent years. From oversight over federally licensed gun dealers, to loopholes in our background check system, to delayed denials, to gun trafficking, to the need to more rapidly trace the sources of crime guns, the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, we in Congress have too often failed you as well. Given the diversity and seriousness of your missions, we have too often underfunded some of your critical functions. Right now, the NYPD has more than 39,000 officers and more than 19,000 administrative staff. As of 2019, the ATF has a total of 5,109. Given your responsibilities, I think it is safe to say that an increase in staffing is sorely needed.
On the NICS side, funding has grown over time to help states maintain and update their background check databases, and continued NICS funding is vital to ensuring that the background check database is accurate.
Lastly, we also cannot discuss enforcement of our gun laws without also mentioning previous legislative actions taken by Congress that have impeded ATF’s ability to prevent and investigate gun violence. This committee, unfortunately, has a long history of interfering in some common sense policies to ensure that the ATF can act in ways that are effective and efficient. Hopefully, we will get a chance to discuss the impact of some of those choices today.
I represent a community that is far too often subject to gun violence—typically from illegal guns that have moved from a legitimate federally licensed firearms dealer to an illegitimate source. So far this year, we have had 29 shootings in The Bronx. I think we can all agree that that is too many and that we need to act to prevent this from happening. Gun crimes happen all over our nation, and not a day goes by without a firearms-related death. This violence has a serious impact on our neighborhoods, not only the serious physical and emotional impact on families, but also the psychological impact on the broader community at large. Two weeks ago, the House took a step forward in addressing this epidemic. I look forward to working with the agencies here today to determine what steps we can take next.
With that, let me turn to Ranking Member Aderholt, for any comments he may have.