Remarks on Gun Crime Prevention Strategy and an Exchange With Reporters
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. Good afternoon, Mr. President. It's good to be here with you and with local elected and community leaders and with representatives of law enforcement.
Protecting our communities from violent crime is a top priority for the Department of Justice and one of our most important responsibilities. I'm glad the President brought us together today to discuss a subject of such importance to the public we serve. As our participants in today's roundtable have noted, the increase in violent crime in 2020 and early 2021 is deeply troubling.
That is why, last month, the Justice Department launched a comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy. This strategy is built around four principles: setting strategic enforcement priorities; fostering trust with and earning legitimacy in our communities; investing in community-based prevention and intervention programs; and measuring the results of these efforts through a decrease in violent crime, not merely by arrests and convictions, as if they were ends in themselves.
Now, we know that the lion's share of violent crime reduction work is shouldered by our State, local, Tribal, and Territorial law enforcement partners. Core to our strategy is targeted support of the critical work that you will be doing in the weeks and months ahead.
Every one of our U.S. attorney's offices is working with its local partners to establish an immediate plan to address the spike in violent crime that typically occurs during the summer. And the law enforcement components of the Department are making enhanced resources available to help prevent and disrupt violent crime and to focus on the most dangerous, most violent offenders.
The Department is also strengthening our Project Safe Neighborhoods, our cornerstone initiative that brings together law enforcement and community stakeholders to develop solutions to pressing violent crime problems.
Community-led efforts are vital to preventing violence before it occurs. The Justice Department has available over $1 billion in funding through over a dozen grant programs that can be used to support evidence-based, community violence intervention strategies.
And I want to say that's what I found particularly useful in our discussion just a few minutes ago, was the fact that there are such evidence-based programs available. And I'm hoping that you will get together with us so that we can spread those across the country, as well, of course, funding your own.
A properly functioning criminal justice system is essential to our efforts as well. The Department has grant funding available to help cities resume court operations and services that were curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes funding for technology and equipment for courts to address the backlog of cases and enhance access to justice.
We know that an effective violent crime reduction strategy must also address the illegal trafficking of firearms and focus on keeping guns out of the wrong hands. And so the Department is delivering on the promises we made here at the White House in April.
On May 7, we issued a proposed rule to help address the proliferation of ghost guns. On June 7, we issued a proposed rule to clarify that pistols equipped with certain stabilizing braces are subject to the same statutory restrictions as easily concealable, short-barreled rifles. And on the same day, the Department published model Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation for States to consider as they craft their own laws to reduce gun violence.
We are now taking further steps. First, we will hold gun dealers that break the rules accountable for their actions. Most federally licensed firearms dealers operate legally in selling guns to individuals who have passed background checks. But those dealers that willfully violate the law increase the risk that guns will fall into the wrong hands.
Absent extraordinary circumstances, ATF will initiate proceedings to revoke the licenses of dealers that willfully violate the law by failing to conduct required background checks, falsifying records, failing to respond to trace requests, refusing to permit ATF to conduct inspections, or transferring firearms to persons who are prohibited from owning them.
Second, we are seeking funding to increase ATF's dealer inspection capacity and improve its effectiveness. ATF has very limited inspection resources. The President's fiscal 2022 budget requests resources to add inspection positions in every field division. The effectiveness of the enforcement program depends on the ability to identify and focus on those dealers that pose the greatest risk to public safety. Starting today, ATF will make clear to investigators in every field division that, as they prioritize inspections, they must consider the extent to which firearms sold by a dealer are later used in criminal activity.
Third, we will improve information sharing with State, local, Tribal, and Territorial partners to help bring more intelligence and law enforcement resources to bear, as well as with the public, to increase our own accountability.
Today, ATF has a point of contact in every field division to receive information from mayors, police chiefs, and other local leaders about firearms dealers they believe are acting unlawfully. And starting next month, ATA—ATF will begin sharing inspection data with the 16 States that license or regulate firearms dealers themselves. Also beginning next month, ATF will publicly post information about inspection frequency and outcomes disaggregated by field division, providing for enhanced transparency and accountability.
Fourth, we are launching a concerted effort to crack down on gun traffickers. Yesterday the Department announced that it will establish five new cross-jurisdictional law enforcement strike forces within the next 30 days. The strike forces will focus on addressing significant firearms trafficking corridors that fuel violence in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, DC, as well as in cities and towns along the way.
The Justice Department's violent crime reduction strategy and our initiatives to stem the rising tide of illegal guns will save lives. But these steps alone will not solve the problem of violent crime. Success depends on all of us joining together: those of you in this room, the many like you across the country who are working to keep their communities safe, and the people of our communities themselves.
I would now like to introduce President Biden, who has emphasized the importance of this issue and who has my gratitude for gathering us together today.
The President. Thank you, General. Let me—before I begin, thank the participants in our roundtable today: two mayors—three mayors, chiefs of police, attorneys general, and community organizers who have been doing significant work in bringing down violent crime in their communities. There is no one answer that fits everything. And it's about being engaged and multiple organizations being engaged.
So I want to thank you for the time you spent with us today. And I warned you: I'm coming back at you again for more information. [Laughter]
And we just met, as a I said, with a bipartisan group of mayors, law enforcement, and community leaders. And we discussed a comprehensive strategy that I'm releasing today to combat the epidemic of gun violence and other violent crime that we've been seeing in our country for far too long, that has spiked since the start of the pandemic over a year ago.
Crime has—historically rises during the summer. And as we emerge from this pandemic with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer's—summer spike may even be more pronounced than it usually would be.
For folks at home, here's what you need to know: I've been at this a long time, and there are things we know that work that reduce gun violence and violent crime and things that we don't know about. But things we know about: Background checks for purchasing a firearm are important; a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines—no one needs to have a weapon that can fire over 30, 40, 50, even up to 100 rounds unless you think the deer are wearing Kevlar vests or something; community policing and programs that keep neighborhoods safe and keep folks out of trouble.
These efforts work. They save lives. But over time, these policies were gutted and are woefully underfunded. In our conversation today, we talked about our strategy to supercharge what works while we continue to push the Congress to act on sensible gun violence legislation.
First, we discussed cracking down, as you heard from the Attorney General, on rogue gun dealers. We know that if there is a strict enforcement of background checks, then fewer guns get into the hands of criminals. Background checks have thus far kept more than 3 million guns out of the hands of felons—convicted felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from being able to purchase a gun. And there are still too many loopholes in that system.
And today, enough rogue gun dealers feel like they can get away with selling guns to people who aren't legally allowed to own them. And I might add: The Second Amendment, from the day it was passed, limited the type of people who could own a gun and what type of weapon you could own. You couldn't buy a cannon.
Those who say the blood of—"the blood of patriots," you know, and all the stuff about how we're going to have to move against the Government. Well, the tree of liberty is not watered with the blood of patriots. What's happened is that there have never been—if you wanted or if you think you need to have weapons to take on the Government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons. The point is that there has always been the ability to limit—rationally limit—the type of weapon that can be owned and who can own it.
The last time we had data on this issue of who is purchasing guns was more than 20 years ago. Five percent of gun dealers—it turns out, in the study we did—showed that 90 percent of illegal guns were found at the crime scenes sold by 5 percent of gun dealers. Five percent sold 90 percent of the guns found at crime scenes.
And the—these merchants of death are breaking the law for profit. They're selling guns that are killing innocent people. It's wrong. It's unacceptable. And as the Attorney General said, we're going to crack down on those gun dealers and the violent criminals they knowingly arm.
In April, I announced that the Justice Department is going to be issuing an annual report on gun trafficking so we can update that data. Today the Department is announcing, as I just did, a major crackdown on—to stem the flow of guns used to commit violent crimes. It's zero tolerance for gun dealers who willfully violate key existing laws and regulations. Let me repeat: zero tolerance.
If you willfully sell a gun to someone who is prohibited from possessing it, if you willfully fail to run a background check, if you willfully falsify a record, if you willfully fail to cooperate with the tracing requests or inspections, my message to you is this: We'll find you, and we will seek your license to sell guns. We'll make sure you can't sell death and mayhem on our streets. It's an outrage. It has to end, and we'll end it. Period.
Second, we discussed disrupting illegal gun trafficking. Now, the gun lobby wants you to believe that cities that are the toughest gun—have the toughest gun laws still have the highest rates of gun violence, as was pointed out by the group we had today in our roundtable. They—the violence is so—they argue, "Why do you need those gun laws if they don't work in cities that have tough laws?" Don't believe it.
Here's the truth: Today's conversation with Mayor Scott of Baltimore, for example, echoed what we know to be the case, and you hear it from mayors across the country. Mayors have the power to help shape and enforce the laws in their cities, but they can't control the laws in neighboring cities and States, even though the gun legally bought there is—often ends up in their streets. Mayor Scott says that 80 percent of the guns in Baltimore were acquired outside the city—outside the city. There's little he can do about that, so we have to act.
As part of our strategy, the Justice Department is creating five new strike forces to crack down on illegal gun trafficking in the corridors supplying weapons to cities like New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Washington, DC; and the Bay Area. With these strike forces, local and Federal law enforcement and prosecutors are going to be able to better coordinate the prosecution of illegal gun trafficking across city and State lines, so illegal guns sold from the back door of a gun shop in Virginia don't end up at a murder scene in Baltimore. And if they do, then local and Federal law enforcement can better coordinate to trace illegal gun sales back to the shady gun dealer and hold them accountable.
Police Chief Murray of the Baltimore—excuse me, Police Chief Merritt—Police Chief Murphy Paul of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, talked about how he's coordinating more closely with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the ATF, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, to help take on criminal organizations committing violent crimes in the city. This kind of coordination is essential to keeping the weapons of war out of the hands of dangerous criminals, fugitives, and gangs, as well as organized crime.
Third, we discussed historic funding—the—we discussed historic funding for States, cities, and counties, and Tribes for law enforcement and crime prevention. You know, they've not only had to fight this pandemic, they've also had to deal with economic crisis that has decimated their budgets, forced them to cut essential services, including law enforcement and social services.
And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they've had to deal with a second public health crisis: gun violence. The American Rescue Plan, which we passed in the first hundred days of my administration, is providing much-needed, historic relief to bring back those law enforcement jobs and social service jobs.
Much of this relief has already arrived. The rest is on its way. And we're now providing more guidance on how they can use the $350 billion nationally that the American Rescue Plan has available to help reduce crime and address the root causes. For example, cities experiencing an increase in gun violence were able to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime.
Mayors will also be able to buy crime-fighting technologies, like gunshot detection systems, to better see and stop gun violence in their communities. They can use the funding to scale up wraparound services for the residents as well, including substance abuse and mental health services that we know will make a difference to prevention of crime.
Here's another example that reminds me of the old saying my mom used to use. She'd say, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop." Well, school's out for the summer. Teenagers are in tough neighborhoods, no—who are in tough neighborhoods—no jobs, more trouble.
We know summer job training—summer jobs, training, and recreation for young people work. They help make sure young people pick up a paycheck instead of a pistol. One study found a Boston summer jobs program for youth reduction reduced violent crimes by 35 percent in Boston. Another study found that a program that offers high school students in Chicago a good summer job and an adult mentor and behavioral therapy led to a 45-percent drop in violence.
We can invest in more of these programs with the American Rescue Plan. And here's another thing States, cities, counties, and Tribes can do with that funding: When someone finishes their time in prison, they can't just give them—we can't just continue to give them 25 bucks and a bus ticket. They end up right back where they started and got them in trouble in the first place—or no option for being able to provide for access to public housing or for schools or for mentors to help them find their way and the stuff that prevents recidivism and helps them integrate in a society. That's changing with guidance we're issuing today.
The American Rescue Plan funding can help formerly incarcerated people get skills training, apprenticeships, and work experience so they can gain stability and security and a chance for a better life, rather than going back to exactly what they left.
Attorney General Grewal of New Jersey and Mayor Daniel—and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade talked about their efforts to lift up those kinds of—their—the kinds of community programs that reduce gun violence, keep communities safe, and make real, positive difference in people's lives.
And for folks at home, the American Rescue Plan, which is a once-in-a-generation investment to reduce violence in America, is available. I'm proud of it. It means more police officers, more nurses, more counselors, more social workers, more community violence interrupters to help resolve issues before they escalate into crimes.
It means we go after the people who flood our streets with guns and the bad actors who decide to use them to further terrorize the communities. It means saving lives. And Congress should in no way take away this funding. It's already been appropriated.
In fact, a few weeks ago, the bipartisan United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties—they all came out forcefully against efforts to reclaim American Rescue Plan funds that have already been allocated to the States, cities, and counties, and Tribes. This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities.
Fourth, we discussed the need to support community violence intervention. These are local programs that utilize trusted messengers and community members and leaders to work directly with people who are most likely to commit gun crimes or become victims of gun crimes.
We know who they are. They intervene before it's too late, these interrupters: turn down the temperature, halt the cycle of retaliation, connect people to social services. And it works. Community violence intervention programs have shown a reduction in violence of up to 60 percent in many places.
We heard from two community leaders that do this work. Eddie, thank you for coming from Chicago to—you're really—quite frankly, it was impressive—your presentation. And DeVone Boggan from Richmond, California.
Eddie was formerly incarcerated for gun homicide, and DeVone lost his brother to gun violence. And Eddie worked as a violence interrupter. Now he runs a program that provides high-risk men with cognitive behavioral therapy to help them react to the impulses by slowing down rather than following through on the violence. It puts them in—he puts them in paid jobs to change their trajectory. The program has reduced shootings by 40 percent.
DeVone runs a program across California and six other States that enroll high-risk individuals in peace fellowships, complete with intensive mentoring and social services. It's saving lives. In Sacramento, for example, 91 percent of participants stayed away from gun violence.
States and cities should invest the American Rescue Plan funds in those kinds of anti-violent crime programs. And today I'm announcing that the White House will be working with 15 jurisdictions that are doing exactly that—from Baltimore to Baton Rouge, and Memphis to Minneapolis—to build up their community violence intervention programs, starting this summer.
And Mayor Steve Allender of Rapid City, South Dakota—a Republican and a former chief of police himself—joined us today and will be a part of this effort to help disrupt cycles of crime and violence in his community and nearby Tribal communities. We need more mayors to follow, and I'm going to be pushing to keep—pushing for more of these proven programs, which are part of the American Jobs Plan and my budget.
Fifth, and I'll close with this: We talked about the lives we lost—have already been lost and the lives that we can save. We talked about how much pain and loss so many people have experienced and so many people have now accepted as their fate here in America.
We have an opportunity to come together now—as Democrats and Republicans, as fellow Americans—to fulfill the first responsibility of government and our democracy: to keep each other safe. Enough. That means Congress passing sensible gun prevention, violence prevention initiatives is—makes sense: background checks, ban on assault weapons, repeal of the liability shield for gun manufacturers.
It means the Senate reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act—my proudest legislative accomplishment—to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole"—its "boyfriend and stalking loophole"—to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. We added the provision saying, "If you have a stay-away order—you are stalking someone, and you're told it has to stop—you can't own a weapon." Every single month, an average of 57 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. We can help stop that.
It means confirming my outstanding nominee for—to lead the AFT—excuse me, the ATF: David Chipman. It's been without a leader for a while. The top job has been unconfirmed for much too long. A career and distinguished ATF official for 25 years, David is eminently qualified for the job that we desperately need to fill.
As Vice President, I pushed hard to lift the freeze on gun violence research at the C—the Center for Disease Control, the CDC. Guess what? Why should they not be able to study gun violence and what causes it? But there's been a block on it. I want to unfreeze that. As President, my budget doubles funding for the gun violence research at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health—the NIH—to study gun violence as a public health threat that it is.
And while we keep pushing there, Vice President Harris and I also—and our entire administration are continuing to be—will continue taking action where we can. Let's stop the proliferation of ghost guns, as we announced back in April with the Attorney General.
We need to support the development of smart gun technologies. This doesn't affect responsible gun owners or Second Amendment rights. It helps keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them in the first place, from a child who accidentally picks up a—picks it up, to a burglar or a violent criminal trying to steal it and use it.
And we need to keep building on the gun violence and crime-prevention strategy we're laying out today. Folks, this shouldn't be a red or blue issue, it's an American issue. We're not changing the Constitution; we're enforcing it, being reasonable. We're taking on the bad actors doing bad and dangerous things to our communities and to our country.
Talk to most responsible gun owners and hunters. They'll tell you there's no possible justification for having a hundred rounds in a magazine of a gun. Like I've said before: What do you think, the deer are wearing Kevlar vests? Responsible gun owners will tell you that there are too many people today who are able to buy a gun but shouldn't be able to buy a gun.
And these kinds of reasonable reforms have overwhelming support from the American people, including gun owners. The bottom line is this: Let's show the world and show ourselves that democracy works and that we can come together as one Nation. We can do this and save lives.
So thank you, God bless you all, and may God protect our troops.
And again, I thank you all for participating. But the bad news for you all is, I'm coming back. I need your continued help. So thank you very, very much.
And, General, thank you. Appreciate it.
Q. Mr. President——
Gun Control Legislation
Q. Mr. President, are you still holding out hope that Congress can pass another assault weapons ban?
The President. I never give up hope.
Infrastructure and Jobs Legislation
Q. How do you feel about the bipartisan infrastructure deal that's been released?
The President. I'll tell you that when I get the final numbers tonight.
Gun Violence Prevention Efforts/Social Services in Vulnerable Communities
Q. Mr. President, what do you feel is the most effective thing that government can do to change the mindset of those who feel compelled to pull the triggers of these guns?
The President. By being engaged in a whole range of programs. We talked today—everything from mental health programs to engaging people early on and letting them know there is other options. Making sure that when a child is young, they have access to a real education, and they get started off on the right foot.
Making sure that when someone gets out of prison, they're not denied public housing, they don't have to go back under the bridge where they were living before; that they're able to get help for health care, et cetera, and reengaging them in the neighborhood, giving them some hope, some opportunity. And in the meantime, making sure that those folks who are taking advantage of them by taking advantage of their situation are, in fact, held accountable.
Thank you all so much.
Voting Rights Legislation
Q. Once you take care of the voting rights bill, do you think it's time to reform the filibuster?
The President. I think it's time to pass the voting rights bill. [Laughter]
NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 5:05 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Eddie Bocanegra, senior director, Rapid Employment and Development Initiative; and DeVone Boggan, founder and chief executive officer, Advance Peace; and David H. Chipman, senior policy adviser, Americans for Responsible Solutions, in his capacity as the President's nominee to be Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives at the Department of Justice. He also referred to H.R. 1620.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Gun Crime Prevention Strategy and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350542