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Heinrich Presses FBI Director on Gun Violence, Fentanyl, and Violent Crime

WASHINGTON – Today, during a hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) Budget Request for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) asked FBI Director Christopher Wray about how the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act has helped law enforcement reduce gun violence, tackling the skyrocketing rise of ghost guns, and combating the flow of illicit fentanyl within the U.S. 

CJS FBI Hearing

VIDEO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich Questions FBI Director Christopher Wray, June 4, 2024. 

On Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and Gun Violence: 

Heinrich asked, “Director, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and specifically how the “Engaged in the Business” language may have broadened your ability to perform background checks, and what impact that then has on other agencies’ ability to successfully prosecute things like the straw purchasing and gun trafficking provisions in that law.” 

Director Wray responded, “So certainly BSCA was an important piece of legislation that has added to our authorities in a number of ways in terms of additional background checks on the so-called U-21 group in particular. And I think that’s important because as I go around talking to state and local law enforcement, and I’ve talked to law enforcement in all 50 states, one of the two recurring themes you’ll hear on violent crime is the role of juveniles and the role of mental health. And so the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act does, I think, take an important step in the right direction in terms of addressed that specific part of the threat...So whether it’s straw purchaser cases, or things like that, I know when I was a line prosecutor, I prosecuted, tried a number of straw purchaser cases. Those are important tools, and so often that’s one of the best violations, to dismantle a violent crime threat.” 

Heinrich was a member of the core bipartisan group that negotiated the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act—the first significant federal gun safety legislation to become law in 30 years—specifically leading the successful effort to increase criminal penalties for straw purchases and stop illegal gun trafficking out of our country.   

On “Ghost Guns”: 

Heinrich asked, “One of the other things that we haven’t, I don’t think, adequately addressed in the law yet, but which is skyrocketing, is these ghost guns or privately made firearms. Law enforcement has seen a 1000% increase in recoveries between 2016 and 2021. In 2022, we had a ghost gun used to shoot and kill a 16-year-old at West Mesa High School in Albuquerque, and I wish that were a completely isolated case. What is the FBI doing to recover and prevent the assembly of ghost guns, and what tools, more importantly, do you need from Congress to be able to get your hands around this challenge?” 

Director Wray responded, “So I would say ghost guns, as you say, represent a real challenge for law enforcement. Because the kits are cheap and widely available and undercut the ability to trace the firearm. And in effect end up undermining the background check process. Unfortunately, we are seeing ghost guns more and more in violent crime and gang investigations....” 

Director Wray continued, “As to other things that Congress can do to help, at the risk of answering every question with the same answer, we need Congress to restore the progress that was made in ‘23 so that we can sustain our efforts against violent crime and sustain our work in terms of denial of firearms to the people who are legally prohibited from having them.” 

In July 2023, Heinrich cosponsored the bicameral Ghost Guns and Untraceable Firearms Act. This legislation would require online and other sellers of gun-making kits to comply with federal firearm safety regulations.   

Heinrich’s Gas-Operated Semi-Automatic Firearms Exclusion (GOSAFE) Act—a commonsense proposal designed to protect communities from gun violence while safeguarding Americans’ constitutional right to own a firearm for legitimate self-defense, hunting, and sporting purposes—would also prevent unlawful firearm self-assembly and manufacturing. 

On Fentanyl and Violent Crime: 

Heinrich asked, “We made some progress recently with the FEND Off Fentanyl Act that was really designed to prevent fentanyl from getting inside the United States in the first place, but you have to deal with it when it’s already here. You mentioned funding and the potential impact that the budget could have on your ability to disrupt that flow. Feel free to reiterate the importance of that, and then also touch on other tools you may need to address the sort of crisis that we are seeing in communities all across the country.” 

Director Wray responded, “So we are finding most of the fentanyl that we see at the FBI is fentanyl that’s already here in the United States. And what we’re finding is that something like 70% of it is coming up in violent gang takedowns. So that shows you kind of firsthand the nexus between the fentanyl problem and the violent crime problem and some of the most dangerous offenders.” 

Director Wray continued, “It is not unusual for the FBI in any given field office to seize enough fentanyl in one takedown to have wiped out an entire state. And so if you start thinking about the impact of the cuts that we’ve been talking about in this hearing, that’s fewer seizures, that’s more pills on the market, that’s more people dying. I mean, just to put it as bluntly as that, and that’s just looking at it that way. Of course, we also have all these investigations into cartel leadership, and again, the cuts impact that if we’re going to be serious about going after the cartels.” 

Director Wray continued, “Among the other things that we’re doing to try to tackle the fentanyl problem, we have an initiative called J Code that aggressively targets Dark Net trafficking of fentanyl. We just last year had an operation called Spectator that was the largest ever, I think, takedown of a Dark Net trafficking marketplace of fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic opioids. So that’s an important part of our work.” 

Director Wray continued, “I know in your home state, in Albuquerque, I just remembered off the top of my head, there was a great takedown that they did, where they were seizing enough fentanyl to wipe out an entire state, along with, again, back to the nexus with violence, along with hand grenades, ballistic vests, you know, the whole nine yards. So, the fentanyl problem and the violent crime problem are inextricably linked, and, of course, the fentanyl problem is directly tied to the problems from the other side of the border.” 

Heinrich replied, “So, not a great time to cut his budget.” 

Heinrich, a cosponsor of the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, helped to pass this legislation into law in April, as part of the National Security Supplemental package. This new law will help combat the fentanyl crisis in New Mexico by authorizing the federal government to engage in new sanctions and anti-money laundering activities to interdict illicit fentanyl before it ever reaches our borders. 

Heinrich also recently welcomed $9.5 million from the White House’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program to provide New Mexico’s law enforcement agencies new tools to keep communities safe from illicit fentanyl and reduce violent crime associated with drug trafficking. 

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Heinrich has gone to great lengths to provide local law enforcement with federal resources to combat the fentanyl crisis, through the appropriations process and congressionally directed spending requests. 

In the FY24 Appropriations Bills, Heinrich secured

  • More than $1 million to help law enforcement agencies throughout New Mexico purchase equipment to safely identify fentanyl and other illicit substances. 
  • New language directing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to further remove barriers to access for opioid use disorder medications—like buprenorphine.  
  • That language clarifies the difference between suspicious orders of opioids and orders of buprenorphine in the DEA’s Report System— making it easier for local medical and mental health providers to prescribe effective treatment for more New Mexicans struggling with opioid addiction. 
  • Over $400 million to improve the detection and seizure of fentanyl and other narcotics. This includes $75.5 million for non-intrusive inspection equipment for in-bound and out-bound operations at ports of entry, $10 million for task forces dedicated to countering fentanyl, and $6 million for maritime operations to counter fentanyl. 
  • $125 million to support efforts to address the global flow of synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, and their precursor materials by increasing diplomatic engagement, law enforcement cooperation and capacity building, and governance capacity support.  
  • $1.4 billion to strengthen the U.S. State Department’s mission to break up transnational organized crime by reducing the production and trafficking of illicit fentanyl and other drugs. 

Heinrich is also a cosponsor of the Stop Fentanyl at the Border Act, legislation that would enable U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire more Officers and Border Patrol Agents to increase capacity to stop illicit smuggling over the border. 

Additionally, Heinrich joined over 100 Democratic Senate and House members toreintroduce the bicameral Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, to fight the substance use disorder crisis. The CARE Act would provide state and local governments with $125 billion in federal funding over ten years, including nearly $1 billion per year directly to Tribal governments and organizations. 

In May 2023, Heinrich led a bipartisan group of senators to call on the DEA to remove barriers to buprenorphine, a lifesaving drug used to treat opioid use disorder. The push comes as prescribers and patients in New Mexico and across the country continue to report difficulty filling buprenorphine prescriptions, despite recent passage of the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which increased the number of medical professionals authorized to prescribe buprenorphine. 

For more information on Heinrich’s actions to tackle the fentanyl crisis in New Mexico, click here.