Biden Anti-Crime Plan Eyes Gun Dealers 06/23 06:15
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is announcing new efforts to stem a
rising national tide of violent crime as administration officials brace for
what could be a turbulent summer, focusing on attacking gun violence, providing
money to cities that need more police and offering community support.
The worry over crime is real: It has created economic hardship, displacement
and anxiety. But there are also tricky politics at play. The spike in crime has
become a Republican talking point and has been a frequent topic of conversation
on conservative media.
White House aides believe that Biden, with his long legislative record on
fighting crime as a senator, is not easy to paint as soft on the issue, and the
president has been clear that he is opposed to the "defund the police"
movement, which has been effectively used against other Democrats to cast them
as anti-law enforcement.
But Biden also is trying to boost progressives' efforts to reform policing,
following a year of mass demonstrations and public anguish sparked by the
killing by police of George Floyd and other Black people across the country.
And while combating crime and reforming the police don't have to be at odds
with each other, the two efforts are increasingly billed that way.
Biden will try to do both at once, according to senior administration
officials who detailed his upcoming address on the condition of anonymity
because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.
In his speech Wednesday, Biden will announce a "zero tolerance" policy --
not to be confused with the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on
immigration that separated thousands of children from their families at the
U.S.-Mexico border. This one gives no leeway to gun dealers who fail to comply
with federal law -- their license to sell will be revoked on the first offense.
The president has already announced a half-dozen executive actions on gun
control, including cracking down on "ghost guns," homemade firearms that lack
serial numbers used to trace them and that are often purchased without a
But Biden is limited in his power to act alone. The House passed two bills
requiring background checks on all firearm sales and transfers and allowing an
expanded 10-day review for gun purchases. That legislation faces strong
headwinds in the Senate, where some Republican support would be needed for
In the meantime, Biden will also seek increased transparency on gun data and
better coordination among states, and he will push Congress for more money for
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency responsible
for enforcing federal gun laws and regulating gun dealers. The Justice
Department is also launching strike forces in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles,
San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to help take down illegal gun traffickers,
building on an initiative begun last month.
Police officials around the country have said they are struggling with
increasing crime and continued tensions between police and communities, and
some say their calls for support aren't answered as they take the blame for the
"Many of us -- if not most of us -- are seeing a rise in crime, while at the
same time, we're hearing calls for reform," Baltimore Police Commissioner
Michael Harrison said of cities in remarks Tuesday at a forum on policing. "And
some of those calls are to the extreme of dismantle and defund ... while all of
the same time we're sworn to protect the people."
Biden planned to discuss how $350 billion of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19
relief package can be used by cities to hire law enforcement officers, pay
overtime, prosecute gun traffickers and invest in technology to make law
enforcement more efficient. The officials said the Biden administration hoped
cities would choose to use the money for alternatives to policing, too, and to
invest in community policing models.
While crime is rising -- homicides and shootings are up from the same period
last year in Chicago; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; Baltimore;
Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Houston -- violent crime overall remains lower than
it was a decade ago or even five years ago. And most violent crimes plummeted
during the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic, as people stayed
indoors and away from others.
Crime started creeping up last summer, a trend criminologists say is hard to
define and is likely due to a variety of factors such as historic unemployment,
fear over the virus and mass anger over stay-at-home orders. Public mass
shootings have also made an alarming return.
The rise in violence comes against the backdrop of the national debate on
policing and racism in policing -- and as a police reform bill is being crafted
in Congress. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday dismissed
suggestions that a presidential event focused on cracking down on crime would
undermine that legislative effort.
As a senator, Biden wrote several major anti-crime packages, including a
1994 bill that contained provisions now viewed by some as an overreaction to
the crime spikes in the 1980s and 1990s. Critics say those bills helped lead to
mass incarceration of Black Americans, and Biden's involvement became a
flashpoint in his 2020 campaign.
Biden has expressed second thoughts about some aspects of the legislation,
and he has acknowledged its harmful impact on many Black Americans. But he and
his allies still hold out the law's provisions to address domestic violence,
ban assault weapons and finance community policing.
On the reform side, Biden on Wednesday is expected to push cities to use
$122 billion to help keep schoolchildren busy this summer -- they're often both
targets and perpetrators of violence -- and to expand summer hiring programs
for teenagers, the officials said. Labor Department funding will be used to
provide pre-apprenticeship jobs for youths and help formerly incarcerated
adults and young people in 28 communities get work.
The White House also planned to convene a bipartisan meeting Wednesday of
law enforcement officials, politicians, activists and prosecutors and will meet
with 14 jurisdictions from around the country that have committed to using a
portion of the funding for violence intervention programs.
"Yes, there need to be reforms of police systems across the country. The
president is a firm believer in that," Psaki said 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."