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WASHINGTON—Today, in a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing on the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) FY 2017 Budget Request, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) questioned United States Attorney General about funding for programs related to girls in the juvenile justice system and pressed for additional research into smart gun technologies.
During the hearing, Murphy emphasized that Connecticut is a national leader in providing evidence- and community-based programs that target the special needs of girls in the juvenile justice system. Murphy noted, however, that the DOJ budget request does not include sufficient funding for these important programs, and asked Attorney General Lynch to address the lack of funding.
Murphy also asked Attorney General Lynch to provide an update on the actions that DOJ, in conjunction with the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, is taking to support research on gun safety technology, as directed by President Obama’s executive action to reduce gun violence. Murphy highlighted that the agencies’ work could encourage private gun manufacturers and sellers to advance their own research, and ultimately improve gun safety.
The full text of Senator Murphy’s exchange with Attorney General Lynch is below:
Senator Murphy: I’m constantly impressed at your ability to handle the remarkable breadth, scope, and variety of questions that you get at these hearings. I have three to add to the list and I appreciate your indulgence.
The first is on a program that I know is very dear to your heart and that is our continued efforts to create gender-responsive juvenile justice systems. In Connecticut, we have been a national leader in recognizing that girls, more than almost anyone else, tend to get the short end of the stick in our juvenile justice system. For instance, a lot of status offenders that are girls end up in prison simply because we don’t have gender appropriate alternatives to incarceration.
And in the 2016 omnibus, there was $2 million for competitive grants focused on girls in the juvenile justice system. DOJ, you have not requested additional funds for the Girls in the Juvenile Justice System Program for 2017. I just want to ask you why that is. If you think that we’re still in the process of expending those earlier funds or if there are other parts of the budget that may help to seed some of the programming like that in Connecticut, which really has set some national models for how you treat girls in the juvenile justice system.
Attorney General Lynch: Well thank you for that important issue. It is indeed an important issue and I actually don’t have that information at my fingertips now, and I’d appreciate the opportunity to get back to you on that because it is such an important issue.
I will also note that the issue of how we handle issues of gender is something that we take very seriously. We’ve been working with local law enforcement and with OJP. We just recently released a guidance for state and local counterparts on reducing and eliminating gender bias in law enforcement and that was a collaborative effort – one that we think is going to be very helpful. And it focuses not just on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, but how law enforcement deals with young people who are dealing with gender issues, particularly our LGBT youth community as well.
So it is something that we take very very seriously, but I would appreciate the chance to respond to your direct question with the specifics that I would like to give you.
Senator Murphy: I know of your personal commitment to this issue so a response on that line item would be helpful.
Second, I wanted to turn to the President’s executive actions to reduce gun violence. You and I have spoken about this and one of the most interesting parts of it is the directive to DOJ, DOD, and Homeland Security to conduct and sponsor research into gun safety technology. My hope is that at the end of that period of research that there is an effort to use the procurement ability of the Department of Justice and perhaps other agencies to spur additional private sector research and development into smart gun technology. I understand these types of weapons are not the answer for everyone in law enforcement or in the military, but there certainly is an ability to leverage the purchasing power on our side to promote research on the private side.
I just wanted to get an update as to how that research is going and when we may expect some RFP (Request for Proposal) that prompts some private sector research.
Attorney General Lynch: Well thank you, this is a very important issue. It has actually been under consideration within the government for some time as law enforcement, and in particular the Department of Defense, want to make sure that we remain current in the weapons that we provide to our law enforcement individuals as well as our armed forces individuals. And so for approximately the past two years, there has been research being done, and the gun manufacturers have been very effective partners in this, in developing what are called the smart gun technology – various ways of making sure that you can limit who can handle a firearm, who can fire a firearm – and of course, issues of safety and reliability are at the forefront of everyone’s minds on this.
With respect to the President’s directive that the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense essentially focus on research, that is being done. Just within the past two months, our research arm – the National Institute of Justice – has initiated what they are calling a Gun Safety Technology Challenge to essentially assess the reliability of firearms that are currently available today. Looking at the advanced gun safety that’s integrated into the firearm, but also challenging our manufacturers, challenging our end users to really focus on this issue and come up with the best product.
We don’t have a timetable yet for when we might be at the RFP stage. Certainly we are aware that with the large purchasing power of law enforcement and the Defense Department that we could influence this, but of course we want to make sure that those guns are as safe and reliable as possible.
Senator Murphy: Well I appreciate that. And as you know, manufacturers and retailers in the private sector who have attempted to lead on this issue of gun safety technology have been regularly backlisted. It’s a chilling mechanism on those that want to pursue this, without some pressure from the federal government, some backstop, some cover from the federal government, and so I appreciate your work and your seriousness on this.
Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.