WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday announced his administration’s plan to combat rising rates of violent crime that plague major cities across the United States by further clamping down on gun violence.
“I’ve been at this a long time,” said Biden, who was accompanied by Attorney General Merrick Garland. “There are things we know that work to reduce gun violence and violent crime: background checks for purchasing a firearm are important; [a] ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines; community policing programs that keep neighborhoods safe and keep folks out of trouble. These efforts work, they save lives.”
The White House is seeking to address a number of issues through a flurry of executive orders, from cutting off the flow of illegally sold firearms, to expanding summer programs, and notably by using a chunk of coronavirus relief money for localities and municipalities to allot to police departments. Earlier Wednesday, Biden met with several relevant stakeholders, convening Garland, mayors from Baltimore, Miami-Dade county, and Rapid City, S.D, activists and police representatives in an attempt to reach a consensus on a path forward.
In his remarks, Biden renewed calls for Congress to pass comprehensive gun legislation as two relevant loophole-closing bills sit in legislative limbo; like the fate of many Biden-supported bills, they seem destined to fail due to lack of any Republican support.
“We know that if there is a strict enforcement of background checks, then fewer guns get into the hands of criminals,” Biden said Wednesday. “Background checks have thus far kept more than 3 million guns out of the hands of convicted felons, fugitives, domestic abusers and others prohibited from being able to purchase a gun. And there’s still too many loopholes in that system.”
Yet the White House is only so powerful on its own. Executive actions can drive parts of the federal government to take swift action; for example, the Department of Justice recently announced its own initiative to target firearms trafficking. But little can be permanently changed without assistance from Capitol Hill.
Currently, Congress faces a legislative logjam as it approaches the Independence Day recess, with Democrats unable to score a victory on any of Biden’s major policy proposals. Several attempts to create police reform legislation led by a bipartisan working group on Capitol Hill have all but failed, with the White House taking a backseat in public engagement on the topic as both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate hash out their red lines.
The White House’s initial police reform deadline has come and gone, and advocates and progressives are growing weary of what they perceive as Biden’s inaction. Some negotiators, though, see growing concerns about crime in their area, and residents who want a unified police force now more than ever, as a possible barrier to passing police reform. But the White House disagrees that the goals are contradictory.
“Yes, there need to be reforms of police systems across the country. The president is a firm believer in that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing on Tuesday. “But there are also steps he can take as president of the United States to help address and hopefully reduce that crime. A big part of that, in his view, is putting in place gun safety measures … using the bully pulpit but also using levers at his disposal as president.”
And voters’ fears are not unfounded. Reports have shown record-breaking spikes in homicides during the summer of 2020 in major cities coupled with an increase in nonfatal shootings and aggravated assaults.
Republicans continue to embrace the spikes in rising crime as proof of Biden’s weakness, and will likely continue to campaign against Democrats using fear as their sticking point. The GOP could also weaponize Biden’s much-criticized legislative history with criminal justice reform. His contributions as a senator with the controversial 1994 crime bill are often blamed for reckless mass incarceration, particularly of nonwhite men. Not to mention the administration’s early fumbling of a campaign promise to establish a police reform oversight committee.
Still, forever the legislative optimist, Biden believes there is a clear and necessary solution.
“This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue,” Biden said. “This is an American issue.”
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