Remarks on Efforts To Promote Community Policing, Reduce Gun Violence, and Improve Public Safety in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
The President. Mr. Mayor, thank you. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Before you walk down, I want the Caseys to come up with me, because where I come from, Scranton's Casey's Country. We got raised in the same neighborhood, in Green Ridge, not far from two of the best little candy shops in the—in this—in the whole country. And I just wanted to let—I—they can't deny me, that's why I wanted them up here. [Laughter] I want them to know.
And by the way, this guy is—has more integrity in his little finger than most people have in their whole body. That's why I love working with him.
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. Welcome home.
The President. And, like me, he married way up. [Laughter] Way up. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
[At this point, the President briefly addressed audience members standing behind the podium as follows.]
As my mother, Jean Finnegan Biden, from Green Ridge would say, please excuse my back when I'm speaking. I apologize.
And by the way, you know, one of the best things of all of being President of the United States is the Marine Band. They're the best in the world. Stand up, guys. They are the very, very, very, very best. They can not only play; they know how to fight, too. [Laughter] God love you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being here.
Audience member. President Biden, I love you!
The President. Well, thank you very much. Thank you. How are you, baby? How old are you? How old are you?
Audience member. Nine!
The President. You're almost double figures. [Laughter]
Well, look, folks. It's great to be here in Wilkes-Barre. I mean that sincerely.
Audience member. Hi, Mr. President!
Audience member. Welcome home!
Audience member. We love you!
The President. Well, thank you. Well, thank you so much. Mayor Brown, thank you for that introduction and the passport to this great city. And, Mayor Cognetti, it's almost—we're almost near—we're almost in heaven. We're almost in Scranton. [Laughter] Almost. Being raised in Scranton, they used to say, "You're going down the line?"
Any rate, you know, and what a leadership lineup you have here in Pennsylvania. I want to thank your outstanding Governor, Tom Wolf. Tom and I have been friends a long time. He's truly one of the best Governors in the United States of America. Not a joke. Not a joke. And a standup guy. A standup guy. And Josh Shapiro is a champion for the rule of law as your attorney general, and he's going to make one hell of a Governor. I really mean it.
And by the way, he couldn't be here today—we spoke—Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. He's—when I say he's a powerful voice—I used to be, in the old days, a pretty good athlete. And if someone was really big and tough, you'd say, "I wouldn't screw with him if I had a sledge hammer." [Laughter] Well, I tell you what, Fetterman's a hell of a guy, a powerful voice for working people. And he's going to make a great United States Senator. He's going to make a great United States Senator.
And as I said, Bobby Casey—he's one of my closest friends, one of our great United States Senators. And your Congressman, Matt Cartwright, is the real reason I'm here. I'm in Cartwright Country. He knows how to deliver for this district, which is so close to my heart.
Look, I especially want to thank all the members of law enforcement who are here, many of whom are behind me, for always being there for us. And we should always be there for them.
And by the way, also a group that you need badly—you don't really appreciate until you need them—is the firefighters. The firefighters have been with me my whole career. And let me tell you something, there's an old expression: God made man, then he made a few firefighters—because you got to be crazy to be a firefighter. [Laughter]
And by the way, please sit down. I'm sorry. Please sit down. I keep forgetting. [Laughter] I——
Audience member. [Inaudible]
The President. Thank you. But look, when I ran for President, I said I looked at the world the way I looked at it growing up in Scranton, and that wasn't hyperbole. I meant that. The families—what families wanted was—in Scranton, when I was growing up—and my mom and dad and my grandpop—was as basic, basic, basic as it is today: a decent job, the opportunity to be treated with dignity. Everyone—my dad would say, "Everybody—everybody—is entitled to be treated with dignity, just simple dignity."
The fact is that want—they want to be able to go to good schools in safe neighborhoods, a decent place to live, and just a fair shot, just a fair shot for their kids. You know, a peace of mind knowing your kids can go to school or to the playground or the movies or the high school game and come home safely and not have to think about it.
But for too long, too many families haven't had that peace of mind. They watch the news and they see kids being gunned down in schools and on the streets. Almost every single night you turn the news on, that's what you see. They see their neighbors lose their loved ones to drugs like fentanyl, which is a flat killer. They see hate and anger and violence just walking the streets of America, and they just want to feel safe again. They want to feel a sense of security. And that's what my crime plan is all about.
You know, I call it the Safer Americas Plan, and both your Members of Congress voted for it. It's based on a simple notion: When it comes to public safety in this Nation, the answer is not "defund the police," it's "fund the police." Fund the police. And give them—we expect them to do everything. We expect them to be—to protect us, to be psychologists, and to be sociologists. I mean, we expect you to do everything. I'm not joking. Everything.
You realize more police officers are killed dealing with domestic violence than anything else? Do you realize that? The point is: We ask so much of you—so much of you.
I've not met a cop who likes a bad cop. There's bad in everything. There's lousy Senators. There's lousy Presidents. There's lousy doctors. There's lousy lawyers. No, I'm serious. But I don't know any police officer that feels good about the fact that there may be a lousy cop. And I'm tired of not giving the kind of help they need.
Folks, look, we're in a situation in this country where we have to give them additional resources they need to get their job done. Matt gets it—Matt Cartwright. And I'm not just—this is not hyperbole. Matt's the chair of the powerful subcommittee that controls the funding for public safety. He knows what it means, investing in effective and accountable community policing that builds public trust and strengthens public safety.
I'm old enough to remember when cops used to walk the beat in Wilmington and in Scranton, because they knew everybody. They knew the kid—they knew if something was trouble, they knew whose house to go and knock on the door and say, "Mom, your son just did"—I'm being—I'm not being facetious. They knew the neighborhoods.
As part of the American Rescue Plan I signed into law last year, which they voted for, we set aside 350 billion—with a "B"—billion dollars for State and local governments all across America, and urged them to use it, like your Governor did, to make communities safer.
Here in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf is using $250 million of that money to reduce crime and violence across this State. And Mayor Brown just described how it's helping to fund community policing here in Wilkes-Barre.
But guess what? Every single Republican Member of Congress—every single one in this State, every single one—voted against the support for law enforcement. They talk about how much they love it; they voted against the funding. Flat out. Flat out. Every Republican in the House, every Republican in the Senate, every single one.
I know we expect so much from our law enforcement officers, so we need to support them. That's why my crime plan to help communities recruit, hire, and train nationwide more than 100,000 additional officers—accountable officers—for community policing.
And I mean it. Folks, when it comes to fighting crime, we know what works: officers on the street who know the neighborhood—not a joke—who know the neighborhood; who know the families they're protecting; who get the training they need to be able to do their jobs well; who work to earn the community's trust.
And as we hire more police officers, there should be more training, more help, and more accountability. Without public trust, law enforcement can't do its job serving and protecting all the communities.
If I can just interject for a moment—my deceased son Beau, he was the attorney general of the State of Delaware. And what he used to do is go down, in the east side, the—called the "Bucket"—highest crime rate in the country. It's a place where I used to—I was the only White guy that worked as a lifeguard down in that area, on the east side.
And you know where the—you could always tell where the best basketball in the State is or the best basketball in the city is: It's where everybody shows up.
And he'd go down and hang out and sit on a bench with my grandson, who's now 17 years old. And the police used to be in the car, the local city police. And he'd walk up and bang on the window and say: "Get out of the car, damn it, and meet these people. Let them see you. Let them know you. Let them know who you are."
Well, the truth was—remember what happened to community policing? We went from having enough cops on the street, to cities doing well, and then deciding they don't need more police officers, so they reduced the police forces. So you didn't have two cops in every vehicle; you had one cop in every vehicle. And I don't blame one cop for not getting out in some—certain neighborhoods—not getting out of the car.
And what happens is—it used to be—I can remember that when my son was the attorney general, he'd go around in the tougher neighborhoods and he would ensure that every single cop gave his cell phone number to the local liquor store owner, the local church, the local grocery store, the local hamburger joint so if there was a problem, they'd pick up the phone and call. Because what do people not want to do in tough neighborhoods? They don't want to be the one identified as turning so-and-so in.
I remember going on the east side in Wilmington, in one of those old Victorian two-, three-story apartment buildings, and going up to see a woman whose name—she's passed away, but I won't mention her name now—and standing in that rotunda that—that part that stuck out around the building.
And she said: "Joey, I know—I know what's going on. They all plan it downstairs. I can hear them, but I'm afraid to tell anybody—afraid to tell anybody." The gangs.
And so I got her—so that—I got a phone number for the local cops. She'd call. They promised not to identify her, because they knew there'd be retribution. And the crime rate began to drop. For real. Not a joke.
You've got to know people. You've got to know and you've got to be able to trust the police. And the police had to be able to trust the community. But we slipped away from that. And we have a hell of a lot fewer cops today than we did when I wrote that initial crime bill. But now we've got to get back to it.
And by the way, I'm not making the case there aren't bad cops. There are some really lousy cops. There are some really lousy doctors. There are some really lousy lawyers. I mean it.
But here's the point: As we've seen too often, public trust is frayed and is broken, and it undermines public safety when it gets frayed. It literally undermines safety. Families across the country have to ask why, in this Nation, for example, so many Black Americans wake up knowing they could lose their lives just by living their lives.
If you come from neighborhoods like I come from down in Delaware, if you have a 16- or 17-year-old son and he gets a driver's license, you sit down and say: "Look, if you get stopped, put your hands on the wheel. Don't do anything." Just—I mean, I'm being serious. I'm being serious.
But here's the point: Simply jogging, sleeping in their homes—you know, whether they made headlines or not, they have a lot of lost souls. Increased trust makes policing more effective and it strengthens public safety.
And the communities, by the way, that want the police more than any other community are the tough, poor communities. Black, White, immigrants—they need the help; they want the help. It's not that they don't want it. They want the help.
Without that, victims don't call for help, witnesses don't step forward, crimes go unsolved, justice isn't served.
I took executive action, which I'm allowed to do as President—I always admired Governors who can take executive action—[laughter]—but all kidding aside, to make some of these reforms for Federal officers. I couldn't do it for State officers.
One, no Federal officer is allowed to use a chokehold. No Federal officer can restrict—there's restricted no-knock warrants. We created a national database for officers who have misbehaved and been held accountable so they can't hide. My plan will help make sure that State and local governments adopt these same reforms.
And my plan does something else really important: It addresses the opioid epidemic. You notice how many people are dying of opioid overdoses now? And by the way, laced with fentanyl. The attorney general, Shapiro, can tell you more about that than you'd ever want to know, for a fact. For real. And it's been—he's been such a strong leader on this.
But we're going to impose tougher penalties for deadly fentanyl trafficking that's poisoning communities across this country.
This is a key part of the unity agenda I'm announcing in my State—that I announced in my State of the Union Address. We can do this. We have to do this. We'll make America safer.
My plan also takes commonsense action to reduce gun violence and violence overall. It builds on the progress we made this summer when I signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety law we passed in 30 years. It took 30 years.
And we beat the NRA. We took them on, and we beat the NRA straight up. You have no idea how intimidating they are to elected officials. The NRA was against it, which means the vast majority—the vast majority—of Republicans in Congress couldn't even stand up and vote for it because they're afraid of the NRA. It's not unusual. Every Democrat, Republican, Senators—they get afraid of certain interest groups. They voted against it.
Law enforcement supported it. Faith leaders and teachers supported it. Victims of gun violence and their families supported it. Young people in this country, like the students of the great—this great university, support it.
And the NRA and the vast majority of Congressional Republicans voted against it—saving lives and keeping America safe. But guess what? We took on the NRA, and we're going to take them on again. And we won. And we will win again.
But we're not stopping here. I'm determined to ban assault weapons in this country. Determined. I did it once before, and I'll do it again.
For many of you home, I want to be clear: It's not about taking away anybody's guns. In fact, we should be treating responsible gun owners as examples how every gun owner should behave.
I have two shotguns at home. I—it's a long story, but I'm not opposed to guns. But I support the Second Amendment. And I support the Second Amendment. But the Second Amendment, as one of the most conservative Justices in history, Justice Scalia, once wrote, "Like"—quote, "Like most rights, the rights granted by the Second Amendment are not unlimited." They're not unlimited.
Right now you can't go on and buy an automatic weapon. You can't go out and buy a cannon.
And for those brave, right-wing Americans who say it's all about keeping America as independent and safe: If you want to fight against the country, you need an F-15. You need a—something a little more than a gun. [Laughter] No, I'm not joking. Think about this. Think about the rationale we use—that's used to provide this. And who are they shooting at? They're shooting at these guys behind me.
Folks, look, I went to every major school shooting in around—in the country since I was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee all the way through—as Vice President and President. Over 48,000 people died from gunshot wounds in 2021 in the United States of America, over 26,000 by suicide.
When guns are the number-one killer—listen to this—the guns are the number-one killer of children in America—of children. They're number one. More children—die from guns than active-duty police and Active-Duty military personnel combined.
Hear that again: More children in America die from guns than active-duty police and Active Duty military in the United States combined.
We have to act. We have to act for those families in Buffalo, Uvalde, Newtown, El Paso, Parkland, Charleston, Las Vegas, Orlando. I've been to every one of those sites, sit down with those parents. I spent 4 hours last time. I met with every single one of the parents and families who have lost someone, seen the looks in their faces.
Think about it. Think about the devastation that's occurred. We have to act for all those kids gunned down on our streets every single day that never make the news. There's a mass shooting every single day in this country in the streets of America—every single day.
You have to ask—you have to act so our kids can learn to read in school, instead of learning to duck and cover. Literally, schools all across America, kids are showing up with psychological damage done to our kids, not just COVID. With COVID, what its impact—and how it's impacting us. And on top of that, a child going to school—children see this on television.
You know, we're living in a country awash with weapons of war, weapons that weren't designed to hunt—were designed to take on an enemy. There—that's what they're designed to do. For God's sake, what's the rationale for these weapons outside of a war zone? They inflict severe damage.
When I was recently in Uvalde—I almost hesitate to say this, with some of the kids in here—you know what some of the parents had to do? Supply DNA. Supply DNA. These AR-15s just rips the body apart. Could not identify—could not identify—the body. And a 20-year-old kid can walk in and buy one? DNA to say, "That's my baby." What the hell is the matter with us?
Audience members. Say it again.
The President. No, I'm not joking. Think about it. What are we doing? And by the way, how many—my dad used to love to hunt in the Poconos when we lived in Scranton. How many deer or bear are wearing Kevlar vests, huh? [Laughter] Not a joke. Do you realize the bullet out of an AR-15 travels five times as rapidly as a bullet shot out of any other gun, five times—is lighter—and can pierce Kevlar? Imagine being a parent—not just losing a child, but not being able to physically identify the child, or the adult, because they've literally been blown apart.
We equip our servicemembers with the most lethal weapons on Earth to protect all of us, protect Americans. But we require them to receive significant training, extensive background checks, mental health assessments. They have to learn how to lock up and store their weapons responsibly or they get kicked out. But we let any stranger—an 18-year-old—walk in—a 20-year-old—and buy an AR-15.
That's why, back in 1994, I took on the NRA and passed the assault weapons ban. For 10 years, mass shootings were down—10 years in a row since I passed that legislation in 1994 as a chair—as a Senator. But in 2004, Republicans let that ban expire. And what happened? Mass shootings in America tripled. Tripled.
It's time to ban these. It's time to ban these weapons. We did it before, and we can do it again. Folks, it's time to hold every elected official's feet to the fire and ask them: "Are you for banning assault weapons, yes or no?" Ask them. If the answer is no, vote against them.
Look, I'm prouder that, after 7 years, we finally have a Senate-confirmed Director of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, responsible for fighting gun crime. For 7 years, the other team would not let us appoint anyone to that job—incredibly important job—to help local law enforcement, Federal law enforcement, identify the ballistics, a whole range of things. For 7 years. We finally got it passed this time out, barely. Seven years, because didn't they didn't want anybody in that job. My plan gives the Bureau the funding to hire more agents, to stop gun trafficking.
And by the way, there's a lot of States that don't allow you to purchase certain weapons in the State. But just cross the State line and go buy it next door, bring it across the State line. Keep guns out of—you know what the Mexicans are—Mexico, which has real problems, causing us real problems—you know what their biggest complaint is? Can't we stop gun—gun trafficking across the southern border into Mexico.
There are certain gun dealers that are basically—not gun dealers, they're wholesalers, providing the weapons to anybody who will have the money.
Folks, look, we can help local law enforcement. We can solve more gun crimes if we have the—someone heading up, which we finally do, this organization that's designed to track this kind of behavior.
Finally, my plan invests in crime prevention programs that help keep young people from getting in trouble in the first place. Under my plan, communities can, one, provide after-school and summer job programs they get paid for. More access to mental health and drug counseling. More social workers and housing to keep people off the streets instead of when they get out of—when they get out of jail, they get 25 cent—dollars and a bus ticket, and they end up under the same bridge that they were under before. This will help prevent crime and get young people to pick up paychecks instead of a pistol.
At the same time, we need to help people getting out of prison successfully reenter society so they don't get in trouble again. If you served your time, you shouldn't be design—you shouldn't be deprived of being able to—if you've served it, you shouldn't be deprived of being able to get a Pell grant to go to school. You shouldn't be able to—[applause]—to get a degree.
What's the best thing you can do? Make them productive. They should get access to good jobs where they can earn a decent living.
All these steps will prevent crime, not increase it.
Let me close with this: A safer America requires all of us to uphold the rule of law, not the rule of any one party or any one person. Let's be clear: You hear some of my friends in the other team talking about political violence and how it's necessary.
Think about this now. Did any of you think, even if you're as old as I am, you've—ever been an election where we talk about it's appropriate to use force—political violence in America? It's never appropriate. Never. Period. Never, never, never. No one should be encouraged to use political violence. None whatsoever.
And look, you know, if we're in a situation where—to this day, the MAGA Republicans in Congress defend the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6. Defend them. You all saw it. I don't care how frustrated you are.
You know, when I showed up, one of the things I learned as President, even though I had been Vice President for 8 years and done a great deal on the foreign policy for the administration—I showed up at a meeting of the major democracies called the G-7. And I sat down—it was in England—and I sat down for this 3-day conference. And I said, "America is back." And Macron, the President of France, turned to me and said, "For how long?" "For how long?" Then we had a discussion with Schmidt [Scholz]* and all of them—everything. It just—"For how long?"
And one of them said to me: "Imagine, Joe, if you turned on the television in Washington, DC, and saw a mob of a thousand people storming down the hallways of the Parliament, breaking down the doors trying to overturn an outcome of election and killing several police officers in the meantime. Imagine. Imagine what you'd think."
Think about what the world saw. Not what we saw, what the world saw. Did you ever think, in the United States, that would happen?
What I find even more incredible is the defense of it. Cops attacked and —assaulted; speared with flagpole—with flagpoles; sprayed with mace; stomped on, dragged, brutalized. Police lost their lives as a result of that day. Police lost their lives. One of the officers said it was worse than anything he had experienced in war in Iraq.
So let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress: Don't tell me you support law enforcement if you won't condemn what happened on the 6th. Don't tell me. Can't do it. For God's sake, whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?
Look, you're either on the side of a mob or the side of the police. You can't be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrection. You can't be a party of law and order and call the people who attacked the police on January 6 "patriots." You can't do it. What are we teaching our children? It's just that simple.
But now it's sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the life of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their job. Look, I want to say this clearly as I can: There is no place in this country—no place—for endangering the lives of law enforcement. No place. None. Never. Period. I'm opposed to defending the police. I'm also opposed to defending the FBI.
Look, there's no greater responsibility for government than ensuring the safety of our people. Every parent should be able to know when they—kid leaves home to go to school or just walk the street they're going to come home safely.
We can do this. We have to do this. We just need to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. And when we are united, there is not a single thing we cannot do—not a single thing. I mean it.
So, folks, let's remember who in God's name we are—I really mean it—what our values are, what we believe. "We, the People"—that's how our Constitution starts—or the Declaration. "We, the People." It's who we are.
And, by the way, no one expects politics to be a pattycake. It sometimes gets mean as hell. But the idea you turn on a television and see senior Senators and Congressmen saying, "If such and such happens, there'll be blood in the street."
Where the hell are we?
Audience member. Bring back common sense!
The President. Well, that's all I'm looking for.
And folks, do me a favor. [Laughter] Presumptuous of me to say that. But think about doing me a favor. Please, please elect the attorney general to the Senate [Governor].* Elect that big ole boy to be Governor.
And, by the way, there are a lot of really—and I mean this, I'm not being solicitous—remember what used to be the criticism of Biden when I was running? "Biden is too bipartisan. Biden has too many Republican friends."
There's a lot of Republicans I've worked with for all the years in the Senate. I got a lot done. We respected each other. When we disagreed, we disagreed on principle, but we then went and had lunch together. Not a joke.
What in God's name has happened to that in the United States of America? So, folks, let's bring it back. We can do this.
God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 3:37 p.m. at Wilkes University. In his remarks, he referred to Terese Foppiano Casey, wife of Sen. Casey; Steven M. Dettelbach, Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany; and Sgt. Aquilino A. Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police. He also referred to his grandson R. Hunter Biden II.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Efforts To Promote Community Policing, Reduce Gun Violence, and Improve Public Safety in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/357556