Attorney general calls for counseling, intervention to prevent mass shootings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday announced an effort to prevent mass shootings through court-ordered counseling and supervision of potentially violent individuals.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Criminal Coordination Conference at the Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

The effort, announced in a memo to federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials, follows dozens of deadly mass shootings in the United States this year, including a massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and another just one day later in Dayton, Ohio, in which nine people were killed.

The FBI has at times struggled to identify home-grown threats, which often develop with little warning.

Lawmakers are considering whether new laws are needed to help investigate those who are motivated by white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other extreme ideologies that are protected by the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech safeguards.

Others, such as the gunman who killed 59 people in Las Vegas in October 2017, do not appear to have any ideological affiliation.

Barr said a training conference at FBI headquarters in December will present “proven models for engaging extremely challenging individuals” and consider new ideas to face such threats.

Among those, he said, are enlisting psychologists and community groups.

In one successful case, Barr said, the FBI worked with parents and social-service workers to get court-ordered supervision and mental-health treatment for a young person who was the subject of a threat investigation.

Barr’s announcement came on the same day that a handful of Republican senators led by Texas Republican John Cornyn unveiled proposed legislation also aimed at preventing mass shootings.

The bill would promote collaboration with online platforms to share information about domestic terrorism, hate crimes and mass violence.

It would also create task forces to investigate unlicensed fire arms dealers, expand mental health treatment and expedite the death penalty for international or domestic terrorists who commit mass murder.

The FBI has already taken some early steps toward potentially utilizing social media to detect and prevent mass shootings and other acts of domestic terrorism.

Earlier this year, the FBI requested bids for a contractor to help detect national security threats by trawling through social media sites.

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is currently reviewing the agency’s efforts to identify homegrown terrorism threats.

The FBI has come under criticism for how it investigates possible shooters.

In the wake of the February 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the FBI’s No. 2 official, David Bowdich, told Congress the bureau should have done more after it received warnings about the gunman.

In a report released in June, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the FBI had been aware of a threat from an unnamed home-grown extremist but “did not adequately mitigate the threat.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker

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