President Joe Biden announced a comprehensive strategy for preventing violent crime on Wednesday, with a focus on gun crimes, in the wake of a nationwide spike in violent crime that has become a source of concern for the White House.
Biden addressed the issue in a speech at the White House after meeting with state and local leaders to discuss the rise in crime.
“Crime historically rises during the summer and as we emerge from this pandemic with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may be more pronounced than it usually would be,” Biden said.
The speech of Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday was a significant milestone in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in increased crime in cities across the country. The White House has been concerned about rising crime in recent weeks, and President Obama hoped to use his speech to deflect attention away from what has already become a rallying cry for Republicans seeking to run a “law and order” campaign in next year’s midterm elections.
During his remarks, Biden pushed for the establishment of an assault weapons ban, which is expected to be approved by Congress.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and there are things we know that work to reduce gun violence and violent crime, and things that we don’t know about,” Biden said.
“But things we know about — background checks for purchasing a firearm are important. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — no one needs to have a weapon that can fire over 30, 40, 50, even up to 100 rounds, unless you think the deer are wearing Kevlar vests or something. Community policing and programs that keep neighborhoods safe and keep folks out of trouble — these efforts work, they save lives, but over time, these policies were gutted, are woefully underfunded.”
Asked if he still has hope that Congress would pass such a ban, Biden said, “I never give up hope.”
Biden used the opportunity to defend his administration against charges that it would inadvertently restrict Americans’ Second Amendment rights, as well as to refute the gun lobby’s claims that violent crime is on the rise.
“The Second Amendment, from the day it was passed, limited the type of people could own a gun, and what type of weapon you could own — you couldn’t buy a cannon,” Biden remarked. “The point is that there’s always been the ability to limit, rationally limit, the type of weapon that can be owned and who can own it.”
The President announced “a major crackdown to stem the flow of guns used to commit violent crimes,” warning the administration would pursue a “zero tolerance” policy “for gun dealers who willfully violate existing laws and regulations.”
“If you willfully sell a gun to someone who is prohibited from possessing it, if you willfully fail to run a background check, if you willfully falsify a record, if you willfully fail to cooperate with the tracing requests or inspections, my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns,” Biden said.
Biden also urged Congress to confirm David Chipman, his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which has been without a director for a long time.
The crime prevention strategy includes a number of federal agency initiatives, as well as allowing states to use American Rescue Plan funds for more flexible purposes, such as hiring more law enforcement officers than before the pandemic or funding community violence intervention programs.
Biden’s “Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety,” according to the White House, will focus on five main pillars: stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violence, including holding rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws; supporting local law enforcement with federal tools and resources to help address summer violent crime; and investing in public safety.
Agencies also announced a number of steps related to the strategy on Wednesday.
Communities experiencing a spike in gun violence as a result of the pandemic may use American Rescue Plan funds for policing-related efforts, according to Treasury Department guidance. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge issued a letter addressing housing needs for formerly incarcerated individuals, including the use of 70,000 emergency housing vouchers funded by the American Rescue Plan.
In addition, Biden announced that the Obama administration will convene and support a collaborative community violence intervention program involving more than a dozen jurisdictions. The jurisdictions have committed to investing more in community violence intervention programs using a portion of their American Rescue Plan funding or other public funds.
In remarks made ahead of Biden’s speech, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the federal government’s measures will help, but not solve, the rising crime wave.
“The Justice Department’s violent crime reduction strategy, and our initiatives to stem the rising tide of illegal guns, will save lives. But these steps alone will not solve the problem of violent crime,” Garland said. “Success depends on all of us joining together — those of you in this room, the many like you across the country who are working to keep communities safe, and the people of our communities themselves.”
Given his complicated past as an author of the 1994 crime bill and resisting pressure from the left to support defunding the police, Biden’s announcement marks a turning point in the public narrative about his approach to crime-related issues. It also comes at a time when bipartisan legislation on police reform is making its way through Congress.
Following years of declining crime statistics, the homicide rate in major cities spiked in 2020, and the trend appears to be set to continue this year. According to data compiled by CNN and Gunviolencearchive.org, there were ten mass shootings across nine states last weekend, killing seven people and injuring at least 45 others.
Senior administration officials repeatedly linked the rise in violent crimes to the pandemic during a call with reporters on Tuesday.
“We know that the secondary consequences of the pandemic and the proliferation of illegal guns has led to increased violence over this past year and a half, including a 30% increase in homicides and 8% increase in gun assaults in large cities in 2020,” one official said.
“Our focus is on gun violence,” a second official said when asked if the White House would address the link between rising crime in cities and cities’ decisions to stop prosecuting low-level crimes. That is where the President’s attention is focused. That’s the issue we’re dealing with right now.”
“Some crimes that are trending down, including property crimes and some low-level crimes — that varies by jurisdiction. But where we’re seeing the increase is in gun violence and that is why gun crime is the centerpiece here — the focus,” the official continued.