Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Strategy to Reduce Gun Violence and Violent Crime
7:13 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Thanks, everyone, for your patience. We will get the call started momentarily.
As I mentioned, the factsheet should be hitting your inboxes any second now.
As I mentioned in my initial email, this call is on background, attributable to "senior White House officials," and embargoed for 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
We'll start with a quick overview from [senior administration officials]. And we'll open it up to a few questions.
Again, as a reminder, all the contents of this call are on background, attributable to "senior administration officials" and will be embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow.
So, with that, I am going to kick it over to [senior administration official] to get things started.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much, [senior administration official]. And thanks, everyone, for giving us a little of your time this evening.
You will have heard President Biden, again and again, call the nation's attention to what he has said is a public health epidemic: gun violence. He has talked about the gun violence that makes national headlines, but also the gun violence that doesn't make national headlines and tears apart families every day in this country. He's talked about not just mass shootings, but also community violence, suicide by firearms, domestic violence by firearms.
We know that the secondary consequences of the pandemic and the proliferation of illegal guns have led to increased violence in the past year and a half, including a 30 percent increase in homicides and 8 percent increase in gun assaults in large cities in 2020.
In the first quarter of 2021, homicides are 24 percent higher than the first quarter of 2022 . Since day one of his administration, President Biden has taken action to address this increase in gun violence and other violent crime, giving cities and states the resources they need to make their communities safer.
In April, you saw the President announce a package of executive actions to reduce gun violence while he continued to call for Congress to act. He announced that the Justice Department was going to stem the flow of ghost guns into our communities, that they were going to better regulate firearms with arm braces, that the federal government was going to make changes to 26 federal programs to invest more funding in community violence intervention. And the President nominated David Chipman to be the leader that we need at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
You saw the President, in his American Jobs Plan, call on Congress to invest $5 billion in community violence interventions, which are programs we know work to reduce community violence in our cities. And you saw him put forward a fiscal year 2022 budget request that had increases -- increased funding for ATF to do its job.
Building on all of these actions, tomorrow the President is announcing his comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to gun crime and ensure public safety. He will be meeting with state and local leaders, a collection of mayors, of police chiefs, eight state attorney generals, and community violence intervention experts to continue the conversation he has been having with local leaders across the country regarding what they are seeing on the ground, how federal -- and how the federal government can help them make their community safer. And the President will deliver remarks to announce his comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to gun crime and ensure public safety.
This plan has five parts. I will talk about -- I will provide a brief overview of a few of them, and then turn it over to my colleague to cover the rest.
The first section of this comprehensive strategy will stem the flow of firearms used to commit violence. You -- as I mentioned, you've already heard the President talk about the administration's efforts to stem the flow of ghost guns into our communities.
Tomorrow, the Biden administration will announce additional action. The Justice Department is announcing a new policy to underscore zero tolerance for willful violations of the law by federally licensed firearms dealers that put public safety at risk. Absent extraordinary circumstances that would need to be justified to the director, ATF will seek to revoke the licenses of dealers that first time that they violate federal law by willfully taking -- undertaking a number of actions, including transferring a firearm to a prohibited person and failing to respond to an ATF tracing request. This will be a historic policy that will make sure that we hold gun dealers across the country who are contributing to the supply of crime guns accountable.
The President will also be announcing policies to maximize the efficacy of ATF resources to crack down on rogue gun dealers violating our laws. As I said, the President's fiscal year 2022 budget request would allow ATF to add inspectors in every field division around the country.
In the meantime, the administration is going to be taking action to make sure that we're using ATF resources to the best of our capacity. This includes designating, for mayors, a specific point of contact in every field division, so mayors, police chiefs, or other local leaders can report concerns about particular dealer compliance with the law. It also means giving the 16 states that have their own gun dealer licensing system their -- the federal inspection data so those states can then determine whether to take their own steps to shut down dealers that fail to live up to their obligations under state law.
Additionally, you saw, today, the Justice Department announced that it is launching five multi-jurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces. These strike forces are focused on addressing significant firearm trafficking corridors that have diverted guns to some of our major cities. They recognize that we need multi-jurisdictional coordination to reduce the flow of firearms into cities and that cities can pass laws within their own jurisdictions, but need support to stem the flow of -- from other cities and states.
The second category of action is providing law enforcement the tools and resources needed to tackle gun violence. As part of the Justice Department's comprehensive strategy for reducing violent crime, the Justice Department is committed to supporting law enforcement in local communities and addressing gun violence.
Last month, we saw the Justice Department announce that it is providing support for local law enforcement from the FBI, ATF, DEA, and the United States Marshal Services.
Tomorrow, the Treasury Department will be building on this by highlighting that communities experiencing a surge in gun violence as a result of the pandemic may use the American Rescue Plan's $350 billion in state and local funding for purposes such as hiring law enforcement officials to advance community policing strategies, giving police departments and cities funding for additional enforcement efforts to reduce gun violence exacerbated by the pandemic, including prosecuting gun traffickers, and investing in technology and equipment to allow law enforcement to more efficiently and effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic.
I want to pause here for a moment because this is a historic amount of funding that the President is making available to cities and states through the American Rescue Plan to invest in a range of tools to reduce gun violence in their communities and make their communities safer.
To talk about the next section of the strategy, I will turn it over to my colleague, [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. Hey, everybody. Good to be with you.
The next part of the strategy here -- the third element --is about investing in community violence intervention programs. You have heard us talk about this before, these -- and the President specifically talked about this before repeatedly. Community violence intervention programs are a huge part of the President's gun violence reduction strategy as well.
These are programs that target individuals who are most likely to be involved in gun violence, either as perpetrators or as victims -- to deescalate tensions, to prevent retaliation, and to save lives. They have a significant wraparound services component -- helping people with job placement, with healthcare, cognitive behavioral therapy, education, and a number of other services to help folks get their lives on a different track and to prevent violence.
The White House is going to be launching -- is launching a CVI collaborative of 15 different jurisdictions that are investing their ARP money or other public funds into CVI programs to save lives this summer and beyond. The White House is going to support them. They will also receive support from a group of funders who are coming together to invest millions of dollars over the next 18 months to support these efforts.
In addition, the Treasury Department guidance that [senior administration official] referenced reiterates that the $350 billion in state and local funding can be used for CVI programs -- that is that CVI programs are eligible uses of that money.
The Department of Education has put out guidance as well. That guidance went out on Thursday of last week. It reiterates that the $122 billion in K-through-12 funding in ARP can be used for these purposes as well, where there's education or student-focused components to the programs.
We put out guidance -- these agencies put out guidance earlier this year as well. And we're emphasizing this to make crystal clear that these funds can be used for these purposes.
And, of course, this all builds on the President's historic commitment to secure $5.2 billion of funding for community violence interventions through the American Jobs Plan and the President's discretionary budget request.
As [senior administration official] mentioned, we have also pivoted 26 programs over five days across five agencies to support this work.
The next element of the strategy is expanding summer programs and employment opportunities, as well as other services, for young people. As you may know, young people are less likely to commit crime when they're productively engaged in the summer, and that is true for gun violence as well. There are evaluations that have been done showing that violence is reduced as much as 35 or 45 percent, depending on the city and the program, based on summer youth employment opportunities and other services.
The Biden administration -- the Biden-Harris administration is included in the guidance from the Treasury and Education departments that ARP funding can be used to hire additional school counselors, nurses, social workers, and other practitioners who can support youth and young people during the summer, but these funds can also be used for summer job and summer education programs, and they can be used for wraparound services, such as housing assistance, healthcare, substance use disorder, and food assistance.
Also, I want to mention that, as part of this strategy, the Department of Labor recently awarded $119 million in workforce development grants to serve young people in particular.
The fifth part of the strategy here is to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities. Helping formerly incarcerated individuals is a public safety strategy. We know that finding a good job makes a person much less likely to recidivate.
Yesterday, the Department of Labor awarded $85 million to help people in 28 communities transition from incarceration to employment. Those funds will serve approximately 9,000 people.
In addition, the Office of Personnel Management -- OPM -- will examine barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people within the federal government and will consider steps to remove those barriers, including potentially creating new hiring authority for agencies to hire formerly incarcerated people into the excepted service. These are one-year appointments that can be extended for a second year and that help build a person's experience and their employment history and make them more competitive for federal jobs in the future.
OPM is also going to be issuing regulations under the "ban the box" legislation, the Fair Chance Act from 2019.
In addition, the Department of Justice is going to bring back the Second Chance fellowship. That is a program that will, through a competitive grant solicitation, bring a formerly incarcerated person into the Justice Department to serve in a role working on reentry issues and bring their expertise to bear.
On top of that, the Departments of Labor and Treasury are going to be taking steps to educate employers and help them understand how they can leverage existing tax credits to incentivize the hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals.
There's something called the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. It applies to multiple categories, including people with convictions -- with felony convictions. And employers who hire individuals in this category can receive up to $2,400 in credit against their federal income tax if they are hiring a person within one year of the person's conviction or release from prison for a felony offense.
The Departments of Labor and Treasury are going to take steps to ensure that employers know about this tax credit and how to leverage it in relationship with other tax credits to incentivize the hiring of these individuals.
Finally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to be putting out a letter from Secretary Fudge, outlining actions that HUD is taking to address the housing needs of formerly incarcerated individuals -- returning citizens -- and specifically how the 70,000 emergency housing vouchers that are funded by the American Rescue Plan can be used to support these individuals. Because if they're coming out of prison and they don't have a stable housing situation, then they meet the definition of being at risk of homelessness in the ARP. And the -- Secretary Fudge is going to be lifting this up.
This is an important part of the President's strategy because it is not just jobs, it is a whole fleet of services that are necessary to ensure successful reentry, including stable housing.
So that completes the fifth piece, and I'm going to turn it back to you, [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Thank you, [senior administration official]. And thank you, [senior administration official]. Just as a reminder: This is on background, attributable to "senior administration officials."
We will now open it up for some question and answer. If you have a question, please press the "raise hand" button on Zoom, and then we will get to as many questions as we can. Just give it one minute for anyone who has a question. Thanks.
Q: Hey, thanks, guys. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can.
Q: Okay, thanks so much for doing this. So, as I understand it, the strategy gives cities the ability to use $350 billion in ARP funds to hire police officers or invest in community programs. But is the administration giving guidance about what ratio should go to what? Like is -- what's to stop communities from spending 99 percent on police officers and only a token amount on community programs?
And a second question on the CVI collaborative: It says that those cities are, you know, dedicating a portion of that to community interventions. Is there a sense of, like, which portion of that? I know it's another ratio question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. I'm going to turn it over to my colleague to take the second question, and then I'm happy to take the first one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. No, there's not a specific percentage that's being required as part of the involvement in the collaborative here. But these are going to be significant investments from each of the cities, and I think maybe we could follow up with further information about that. But it's not a, kind of, hard and fast -- and that is because it's important that there not be a, kind of, "one size fits all" approach to public safety here.
And the President is -- the President's strategy on combating gun crime is meant to allow cities and other local jurisdictions to tailor their approaches to public safety and gun violence and gun crime reduction to their own particular circumstances.
So we didn't -- we don't want to artificially shape that from here. The President is giving individuals resources and giving cities resources and guidance to allow them to address the particular needs that they have.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. And then, to address your first question, I think the answer is similar to what my colleague just said. What the Treasury gui- -- the Treasury Department is clarifying tomorrow is that American Rescue Plan dollars can be used in cities that have experienced an increase in gun violence as a result of the pandemic to pursue a range of policies that are tailored to reduce gun violence.
So a city can choose to use funding to advance community policing to be responsive to gun violence in that community. Cities can also choose -- in addition to or instead -- to invest in community violence intervention or to invest in summer program opportun- -- programming opportunities, job training opportunities, all of the tools in the toolkit.
The President is giving these cities unprecedented resources through the American Rescue Plan to invest in the tools they think make sense in their communities.
Q: Hey, yes, thanks for doing this. I just want to ask: I mean, in the big picture, can you speak about how it seems like the American Rescue Plan is central to this overall strategy to combat violence in cities. Can you talk about how -- I mean, how important you think it is? And were the funds designed with this in mind in the first place? Or is this kind of retroactively, it just seems like, that this can be helpful to your efforts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so the American Rescue Plan was designed to help community -- well, the state and local funding in the American Rescue Plan was designed to help state and local governments respond to the impacts of the pandemic -- one of them being an increase in gun violence, which can be attributed to a range of opt- -- a range of reasons resulting from the pandemic, secondary impacts of the pandemic.
And the funding that the President is providing for the American Rescue Plan is historic in terms of the flexibility and the opportunity it provides to these communities to make changes that can have effects in the weeks and months ahead.
It is, of course, only part of the comprehensive strategy that the President is putting forward. You know, not everything comes down to funding, but the other big funding piece here is the President continues to call for Congress to invest $5 billion over eight years in community violence interventions.
We also have a range of non-budget actions that the President -- that the administration is taking, including the new zero tolerance lens that the Justice Department will be using with dealers who willfully violate policies.
So I would say that the American Rescue Plan funding is a critical resource that the President is giving cities and states right now to help reduce gun violence in their communities. It is one of the tools that the President is giving these cities and states through this comprehensive strategy.
Q: Hi, thanks for doing this call. There are a number of governors and state legislatures that are either contemplating or have taken actions to constrain state law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws. And really, there is a growing movement to just ignore a lot of federal gun laws in many states which have Republican-controlled legislatures and governors mansions. Is the administration prepared to take any action to counter this or push back against state governments that are going to resist enforcing federal firearms laws?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks so much for the question. I know that there are a number of cases of this in ongoing enforcement decisions, which I would refer you to the Justice Department to respond to.
What I will say is that, in the midst of all these state actions, more broadly, the President continues to push for legislative action at the federal level and continues to push, and we continue to see progress at the same time.
And many states are leading the way, in terms of enacting policies that will help reduce gun violence in our country, whether that be universal background checks at the state level, banning untraceable ghost guns at the state level, passing extreme risk protection order laws at the state level, or more.
So the President, over the past few months, has been focusing on calling on federal -- calling on Congress to act and encouraging constructive state action.
And I would refer you to the Justice Department regarding the enforcement question you asked.
Q: Hi. Thank you for doing this. And thank you for taking my question. I have a question about some conservative groups -- in particular, the Heritage Foundation has pointed to some of the policies that prosecutors in cities like Baltimore -- whose mayor will be at tomorrow's meeting -- have decided, you know, in some cases, not to prosecute minor crimes, such as drug offenses. And they say that's what's contributed to the rise in crime in some of these cities.
How do you feel that these efforts will address that particular issues when it comes to prosecuting crimes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I will say that the President is giving state and local officials a number of tools to choose from in order to reduce crimes in their communities.
One of the resources the Justice Department, in its comprehensive strategy it released last month, makes clear that it is deploying U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshals, DEA, ATF to help cities that need assistance with investigations and enforcement. He has helped -- those resources will be made available to cities who need support in going after dealer -- gun dealers or other parties that are contributing to gun violence in this country. Because the levels of gun violence in this country are unacceptable and we need action.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And again, I just want to add that, you know, our focus is on gun violence. That's where the President's focus is. That's the problem that we're seeing right now: Homicide is up 30 percent in 2020 over 2019; up again in the first quarter of this year. That's gun violence, primarily. Gun assaults are up.
When you look -- when you dig into the crime statistics, you see that there are some crimes -- some crimes that are trending down, including property crimes and some low-level crimes. That varies by jurisdiction. But what we are -- where we are seeing the increase is in gun violence. And that's why it is -- the gun crime is the centerpiece here -- the focus of the President's strategy.
Q: Hi. Thanks so much for taking my call. I was -- I'm curious, given that states still have to apply for the Rescue Plan funds, is -- does this represent, tomorrow, any shift in the way that their applications might be considered? If they, for instance, have a greater amount of funding that they'd like to use for policing versus other initiatives, should this be a signal to cities or to states that are applying for this money that they can change or shift their application in any way? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, these funds are going out the door. Look at the numbers: $190 billion in the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds have already been dispersed, and more is going out.
So the intent here is not to hold jurisdictions to any particular piece of the strategy. It's a comprehensive strategy, and it recognizes that local needs need to shape local public safety and gun crime reduction strategies.
So the guidance that is coming from the Treasury Department that clarifies what ARP funds can be used for includes, you know, a multitude of different public safety strategies that [senior administration official] and I covered -- from policing, to community violence intervention, to summer job programs, to services -- wraparound services, to substance abuse, substance use disorder treatment. These are a variety of strategies that cities will be able to avail themselves of.
The encouragement here is to use ARP funds to combat gun crime and bring about public safety.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I would just add that we've already heard from cities and states that are eager and excited to have the opportunity to use American Rescue Plan state and local dollars for the types of gun violence reduction strategies that we're outlining. And you should expect us to continue to encourage cities and states to take this opportunity, through the American Rescue Plan, to reduce violence in their communities.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much for the call. I'm calling from Atlanta, where we have seen, of course, a surge in gun violence, but also a problem with a decrease in police officers on the force and a decrease in morale. I wanted to know how this plan would possibly address that issue with cities that need more officers on the force but, right now, haven't had a way to incentivize that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks so much for your question. And I am from Atlanta, so I especially appreciate the question.
So you have heard the President say again and again that community-oriented policing is one part of a strategy to make our communities safer. The President's budget requests $300 million of an increase for the Community-Oriented Policing Services Hiring Programs, and he continues to press for that funding.
Most immediately, though, what this plan does is: The Treasury is making clear that the -- that cities and states experiencing a surge in gun violence as a result of the pandemic may use their -- a portion of their American Rescue Plan dollars -- the $350 billion in state and local funding -- for purposes that are including hiring law enforcement officials, even above pre-pandemic levels, or paying overtime where the funds are directly focused on advancing community-policing strategies in those communities experiencing an increase in gun violence associated with the pandemic.
So a city like Atlanta, experiencing a surge in gun violence as a result of a pandemic, could choose to use a portion of their American Rescue Plan dollars to hire more officers or to pay them overtime when those funds would be used to advance community policing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, thank you everyone for joining tonight. As a reminder, this call is embargoed until 5:00 a.m., Eastern, tomorrow. And the contents of it are attributable to "senior Biden administration officials."
If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Again, one final reminder: This is embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow.
7:45 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Strategy to Reduce Gun Violence and Violent Crime Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350535