Amid Continued Calls for Police Reform, Biden is Set to Address Rising Gun Violence
The president detailed efforts to use federal resources to assist the police as well as community-based groups.,
Biden addresses rising gun violence amid continued calls for police reform.
- June 23, 2021, 8:31 a.m. ET
President Biden on Wednesday announced new efforts to tackle gun violence and provide money to fund police departments, propelling the White House into the politically contentious debate over how to address a rise in violent crime in many U.S. cities.
The president also directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revoke the licenses of gun dealers “the first time that they violate federal law” by failing to run background checks.
“We know that if there is a strict enforcement of background checks, then fewer guns get into the hands of criminals,” Mr. Biden said. “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, if you willfully fail to cooperate with a tracing request for inspections, my message to you is this: We’ll find you, and we will seek your license to sell guns.”
Mr. Biden’s speech at the White House came amid a national reckoning over racism and policing. City leaders are grappling with dueling calls to both improve oversight of their police departments and address soaring homicide rates that administration officials fear will continue through the summer. The president, who ascended to the presidency in part by vowing to prioritize the concerns of Black voters, now must address Republicans who accuse him of being soft on crime, as well as the progressive wing of his own party that is pushing reform.
“This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities,” Mr. Biden said, as he promoted funding for police that included some appropriated through the $1.9 trillion economic rescue package that was passed in March. “Congress should in no way take away this funding.”
Mr. Biden does not feel that reforming the police and tackling crime are conflicting goals, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Tuesday. “We believe that a central driver of violence is gun violence,” she said, adding that the president “also believes that we need to ensure that state and local governments keep cops on the beat.”
On Wednesday, the administration announced that state and local governments could use their designated $350 billion of coronavirus relief funds to hire police officers to prepandemic levels, pay overtime for community policing work, support community-based anti-violence groups and invest in technology to “effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department.
Biden administration officials said the president’s remarks on Wednesday aimed to build on previous executive actions, including orders meant to curb the spread of “ghost guns” easily assembled from kits, expand federal grants for police departments and direct $5 billion in his infrastructure proposal to groups that intervene with those most likely to commit violence.
The Biden administration announced earlier this week that the Justice Department would start five “strike forces” to combat gun trafficking in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and the San Francisco area.
Criminologists have reported that homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, though overall crime figures have been down during the pandemic.
Some criminal justice advocates are concerned about the possibility that raising alarm over crime could undermine momentum to overhaul law enforcement.
“We must not overreact and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past where crime has been politicized and the solutions have been focused on trying to arrest our way out of the problem,” said Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division. “If there is a lot of jargon in that speech that feeds the tough-on-crime narrative, then yes, we have a problem.”
A bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul has stalled in Congress, despite Mr. Biden urging lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Democrats continue to debate reducing funding for police departments, while Republicans have seized on the “defund the police” slogan to attack them as weak on public safety.
“If they think they’re just going to pass a few gun laws and everything is going to be fine, they’re absolutely not in touch with the reality of what’s going on across our country,” Representative John Katko, Republican of New York and the ranking member of the House Homeland Security committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.
For some, Mr. Biden’s comments on Wednesday will be a reminder of his political baggage. As a senator, Mr. Biden championed a 1994 crime bill that many experts say fueled mass incarceration, prompting questions during his presidential campaign over his commitment to overhauling the criminal justice system.
Mr. Biden has resisted calls by some members of the Democratic Party to defund police departments, calling instead for using Justice Department grants to encourage them to change and eliminating sentencing disparities.