AG William Barr calls for December mass shooting summit; attacks 'demand full attention' of federal govt

Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
High school students from Odessa, Texas meet for a prayer vigil at Sherwood Park trying to do fun-raising for the victims of the recent shootings. The death toll rose to seven after a gunman's rampage that left many more injured following what began as a routine traffic stop in Odessa. Photo by Nick Oza/ Gannett ORG XMIT: NO 138232 Odessa shooting 9/2/2019 (Via OlyDrop)

WASHINGTON–Attorney General William Barr is calling for a December summit to confront the continuing threat of mass shootings as part of a federal law enforcement campaign to "refine our ability" to identify attackers before they strike.

 "Targeted killings of innocent people are senseless and cowardly, and demand the full attention of the United States government," the attorney general said in memo to the nation's 94 U.S. attorneys and federal law enforcement agencies. "While we are cognizant that irrational acts of violence by lone actors are very challenging to prevent in every instance, quiet professionals in the department have a strong record of swift action in meeting these threats..."

Barr's announcement comes during turbulent year when a succession of mass shootings have left communities across the country reeling, from El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, to Aurora, Illinois and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Following the almost-weekly spams of violence, law enforcement officials have expressed repeated frustration with their inability to intervene even as the FBI has warned for months that the assaults, often animated by racial animus and religious discord, represent the nation's most pressing security threats.

On Wednesday, Barr suggested that law enforcement could "apply" strategies adopted in the nearly two-decade long fight against international terrorism in the current struggle to contain firearm violence.

"When the public says something to alert us to a potential threat, we must do something," the attorney general said.

In the 18 years since 9/11, the United States has taken aggressive steps to prevent terrorist acts in the name of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other international terror groups. The government built a vast security apparatus to target threats to the United States from extremist groups based overseas, including and extensive effort to identify, track and arrest Americans who give them support.

But potential domestic attackers, largely untethered to specific organizations and protected from police scrutiny by free-speech rights, have proven more difficult for the government to investigate. An affiliation with a designated international terrorist group makes someone fair game for U.S. criminal investigators; expressing extreme, or even violent, views without such a connection typically does not.

 "In taking on these complicated and dangerous threats alongside our local law enforcement partners, I want our federal agents and prosecutors to have all of the information and resources necessary to accomplish their mission, even if it means at times turning to new partners and experimenting with new approaches," the attorney general said.

Barr said the December law enforcement gathering at FBI headquarters would serve as a training conference to address the threat.  

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AG William Barr calls for December mass shooting summit