Newtown Shooting Spurs Legislative Response to Agencies’ Role

Photograph by Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

Members of the Connecticut state police during a memorial service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 16, 2012.

While the question remains whether the killings at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school will prompt major changes to U.S. guns laws, lawmakers did take action yesterday on another issue raised by the mass shooting: the role of federal law enforcement in local emergencies.

Federal law enforcement agencies are always called in to work on cases of the magnitude of last week’s shootings. Dozens of agents, including more than 30 from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, are on the scene working on the investigation. Their jurisdiction to do so, however, has never been explicitly clear.

The Senate last night cleared a measure to change that, unanimously passing Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s bill that authorizes federal law enforcement to assist state and local counterparts in responding to violent crimes in public areas.

Federal law enforcement agencies requested the legislation, which passed the House 358-9 last September and was placed on hold by an unidentified senator. That hold was lifted this week, clearing the way for the first legislative response to the shooting rampage that led to the death of 26 people, including 20 children.

“The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies are often crucial allies for local and state officials working to respond to mass shootings and other violent crimes, as they have been in Connecticut over the past few days,” Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said in a statement.

The bill, now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature, provides those agencies “clear authority” to provide assistance to state and local officials, Whitehouse said.

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