Biden grapples with rising gun violence
Gun violence is on the rise and the White House is struggling to keep state security under control.
Illegal firearms are strewn throughout the streets, teenagers are being assassinated, and an alarming number of police officers have been killed in the line of duty.
Gun violence, which was already on the rise during the pandemic, is on the rise again, and besieged cities are grappling with how to deal with it. On Thursday, President Joe Biden will visit one of them, in New York, in an attempt to debunk right-wing allegations that he hasn't been tough enough on crime.
Biden says he intends to ramp up efforts to remove firearms from the streets and repeat shooters but claims the problem lies within Congress that shows no enthusiasm to pass gun reform, thus limiting his options. Even after 20 children and six adults were slain in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the most powerful push in recent years failed.
Biden is also attempting to negotiate the current political landscape, which includes finding strategies to curb crime while simultaneously advocating for greater accountability in the wake of police shootings of Black people. Though they are sometimes billed as such, the two efforts do not have to be at odds.
All of this is taking place against the backdrop of recent polls indicating that Americans are becoming more concerned about crime and that Republicans have an advantage over Democrats in terms of being the party that would do a better job dealing with it.
Moreover, the White House is fighting back against Republican attempts to depict Biden as a weakling.
“I think we all agree or should agree that violent crime is a serious problem,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “Our view is that instead of turning this into a political football, we need to be focused from the beginning of the president’s time in office on reducing crime and keeping our communities safe.”
As the country deals with an increase in killings in 2020, guns are at the center of the debate. In New York alone, at least seven 16-year-olds were killed in gunshots last year. So far in 2022, 32 officers have been shot on the job, five of them have died.
Two in NYC, two college police dead
During the last two weeks, two people have perished in New York, and two college police officers were killed in Virginia on Tuesday.
In 2020, Americans bought a record number of weapons. Last year, law enforcement officers recovered an unprecedented amount of weapons, and more are being discovered with serial numbers removed, making them impossible to track.
Early evidence reveals that, compared to previous years, the time between when a gun was acquired and used in a crime and when it was seized by police has shortened.
“It’s something of a perfect storm,” said Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice and chair of its Violent Crime Working Group. “There is no one single culprit. Broadly speaking, it’s the pandemic, the social unrest, and its guns.”
Police are conducting less proactive investigations, while communities are reporting fewer crimes and providing less information when police attempt to solve them, in part due to a growing mistrust gap following a focus on police killings of Black people and the ensuing unrest.
“Into all of this walks the president of the United States, who has a 25-year history of work on these issues,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization dedicated to improving the professionalism of policing.
“He has the opportunity as president to use his bully pulpit to send a message to American police, and that could have more impact than any resource the federal government could give.”
$250 million to fight crime
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, advocated investing $250 million in federal dollars to assist first responders in fighting violent crime and recovering from pandemic-related suffering. Those who remain in Aurora, Colorado, where officers have departed the force, will get $6 million in bonuses.
More money is crucial, according to Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department, but fully staffed federal law enforcement organizations would also make a major difference. “The efforts of criminal justice reform need to include the factors feeding into violent crime,” he said.
“Our conversations with the White House have been that we recognize the need for criminal justice reform, the role of policing and accountability but we also need to be similarly invested in bringing police the needed resources to address the increase in crime.”
Federal strike forces are stationed in locations such as Los Angeles and New York to combat gun trafficking. The US Marshals Service periodically conducts fugitive sweeps to capture suspects with outstanding state or federal warrants, and federal agents are embedded in homicide teams in police departments across the country.
Nonetheless, police chiefs and prosecutors around the country have been pleading with the federal government for more help. According to two people familiar with the situation, tensions between some police leaders and the Justice Department have increased in recent months.