President Joe Biden’s administration will launch a new crackdown on illegal guns and funnel money to gun violence intervention groups across the country in response to soaring numbers of deadly shootings, administration officials told reporters on Tuesday night.
Biden announced the steps Wednesday, shortly after meeting with mayors, police chiefs and community leaders who are struggling to contain the violence. Those present at Biden’s announcement included Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cara, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Police Chief Murphy Paul.
“Mayors have the power to help shape and enforce the laws in their cities, but they can’t control the laws in neighboring cities and states, even though the gun legally bought there often ends up in their streets,” Biden said, adding that Scott said 80% of guns in Baltimore were bought outside the city.
Though crime statistics for 2020 remain incomplete, homicides rose 30% in big cities across the country, even as other types of crime appeared to fall. Those increases have continued in the first months of 2021.
The administration has been working to develop policies to combat crime in recent weeks, emphasizing the ability of states and cities to use aid included in the administration’s coronavirus relief package to hire and retain police officers.
Much of what Biden unveiled Wednesday is focused on stopping gun trafficking. He has directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to immediately move to revoke the dealer licenses of gun shops that violate federal law by selling to a prohibited person or failing to run a required background check. (A USA Today investigation released last month found gun dealers routinely keep their licenses despite multiple violations.)
“If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited from possessing it, if you willfully fail to run a background check, if you willfully falsify a record ... my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we will seek your license to sell guns,” Biden said.
“We will make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”
In April, Biden nominated David Chipman as director of ATF, which hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed chief since 2015. While working at ATF, Chipman oversaw complex firearms trafficking cases, including breaking up organized groups involved in the transportation of guns to New York in exchange for drugs in the Tidewater area in Virginia. The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on his confirmation Thursday.
The administration plans to also assemble state attorneys general and state legislators to discuss ways to bypass federal laws designed to protect gun manufacturers from legal liability and instead hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for “improper conduct.”
The Justice Department, meanwhile, is launching task forces aimed at stopping illegal gun trafficking in the corridors leading into New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C.
“Working with our local partners to tackle violent crime is one of the Justice Department’s most important responsibilities,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland, who also attended Biden’s announcement. “Today, the department is taking another concrete step to address violent crime and illegal firearms trafficking. Our firearms trafficking strike forces will investigate and disrupt the networks that channel crime guns into our communities with tragic consequences.”
Biden also not-so-subtly encouraged localities to use the $350 billion in state and local pandemic aid to combat crime. The Treasury Department plans to highlight how state and local governments can hire officials “even above pre-pandemic levels” with federal aid or use the money to pay for new technologies or additional overtime.
The administration is also working to funnel money to gun violence intervention programs, which aim to work with potential offenders and victims to stop shootings before they happen. Studies have shown these efforts can reduce violence by 60% or more.
“This announcement addresses the reality of gun violence in America, where nearly half of all homicides occur in just 127 cities and towns that contain only a quarter of the population and where Black men and boys from 15 to 34 comprised 37% of gun homicides, despite being less than 2% of the population,” Brady racial justice director Kelly Sampson said.
“These statistics do not reflect a ‘culture of violence’ requiring ever more militant policing, as some suggest, but they instead reflect decades of racist policies, oppression and indifference.”
The White House also announced a support group, led by domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and director of intergovernmental affairs Julie Chávez Rodríguez, for 14 cities that will use some of their American Rescue Plan aid to fund intervention efforts. Some of the nation’s largest nonprofit groups ― including Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, the Ford Foundation and Arnold Ventures ― will support those efforts financially.
Lastly, the administration plans to take steps to make it easier for offenders to reenter society after prison by helping them find jobs and housing and to fund youth summer job programs.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mistakenly associated Melinda Gates with the Emerson Collective, rather than Laurene Powell Jobs.