WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden unveiled new steps to curtail gun violence across the country Wednesday, including measures aimed at stemming the flow of firearms used in crimes, after pledging to push for sweeping changes to firearms laws.
In a speech Wednesday, Biden announced a “zero tolerance” policy giving no leeway to gun dealers who fail to comply with federal law — their license to sell will be revoked on the first offense.
“Merchants of death are breaking the law for profit,” Biden said.
Biden also announced new steps to help states employ more police officers using funds approved earlier this year to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and strengthen efforts by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to stop illegal gun trafficking across states.
“My message to you is this,” Biden said, addressing gun dealers who “willfully” break the law. “We will find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”
The actions will build on executive orders signed in April, when Biden asked the Justice Department to crack down on self-assembled “ghost guns,” senior administration officials said. Ghost guns are homemade firearms that usually are assembled from parts from gun kits and lack the serial numbers used to trace them.
So-called ghost gun kits are self-assembled from parts purchased online or at gun shows and are increasingly associated with crimes. But they are not classified as firearms and so can be legally sold without serial numbers or background checks.
Homicides rose 30%, and gun assaults rose 8% in large cities in 2020, the White House said in fact sheet released Wednesday morning.
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.
Executive orders allow the president to act without waiting on Congress, where Democrats hold only a razor-thin majority and Republicans generally oppose new limits on firearms. Gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution are one of thorniest issues in American politics.
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 passage.
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.
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.
Biden will also met on with state leaders, mayors, a police chief and other experts to discuss ways to make communities around the country safer.