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Biden Puts Gun Violence in His Sights

Higher rates of homicide and firearm ownership coupled with relentless mass shootings have brought America's gun problem into sharp relief.

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden convened Monday with federal and local leaders to focus on a scourge that has killed tens of thousands of Americans in the last few years, unabated by the global pandemic.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and we know some things will work, and one of these things that will work is stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Monday.

Flanked by the leaders of cities experience touched by the carnage — Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, Brooklyn Burrough President Eric Adams and Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, California — the meeting comes as discourse over police funding continues to flare from coast to coast and the nation’s homicide rate ticked up 25% from 2019 to 2020.

That figure comes from findings by the FBI, which says the nation saw its highest single-year increase in homicides since tracking first started in 1960.

The causes for this are up for considerable debate. Academics like Aaron Chalfin and John MacDonald, assistant professor and professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, recently explored the paradoxical phenomena of gun violence for the Washington Post.

They surmised much like the White House did on Monday, that America has a “unique” problem where economic strife, social stressors and lack of access to public services tell only a sliver of the gun-violence story.

Last month, the Biden administration formally rolled out its strategy to combat gun violence and violent crimes throughout the U.S., proposing that $350 billion of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package passed earlier this year be directed toward state and local law enforcement.

The White House has asked states to spend some of those dollars on police-force replenishment, and specifically on resources that were depleted over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. The administration outlined that this funding should be used to pay overtime to officers who are “directly focused on advancing community policing strategies,” and moreover in regions where gun violence associated with the pandemic has lurched upward.

That includes ramping up prosecution of gun traffickers, “rogue” arms dealers and training a sharper eye on how the federal government can root out gun-trafficking conduits operating in the shadows at a local level.

Nearly 20,000 people in the United States were killed by gunfire in 2020, according to a report from the nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun deaths including those by homicide, suicide, mass shootings and more.

As of Monday, barely six full months into this year, the archive reports the number of all gun violence deaths now exceeds 23,000. In terms of homicide, the archive counts about 11,000 American deaths while suicides by gun veer toward 13,000. More than 1,000 children, from infancy to age 17, have been killed by gun violence since Jan. 1.

Where lives have not been claimed but injury was sustained, more than 21,000 people have been harmed by a gun this year.

Whether it is analysis from academics or the FBI, unquestionably the pandemic prompted a spike in gun ownership. Notably, however, violent crime overall has not increased in the United States over the last two decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

Much of the administration’s earmarking of additional resources for state and local law enforcement is focused on regions hard hit by Covid-19, and that is because the funding is not new money added but from the same pandemic relief pool.

The Treasury Department is, however, expressly encouraged to give funding to “any community” that can use it to tamp down on gun violence, and with an amount “up to the level of revenue loss the jurisdiction experienced during the pandemic," according to a White House fact sheet.

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Cities in upstate New York, like Utica and Syracuse, as well as cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, Tucson, Albuquerque, Kansas City and Walla Walla in Washington state, were each singled out Monday by the White House for their spending of pandemic relief to wrangle gun violence.

In Syracuse, for example, the White House noted, Mayor Ben Walsh recently relaunched the city’s ShotSpotter technology, which aids police in tracking gunfire for $4 million.

While more cops on the beat is considered key to reducing violent crime under Biden’s strategy, much of the violence, the president contends, can also be eased by curbing the physical flow of guns streaming throughout the country.

To do this, the administration wants the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives to implement a zero-tolerance policy with illegal gun dealers, meaning any dealer who fails to run a background check on a would-be purchaser, for example, would see their license revoked.

Enforcing this and other measures under Biden’s directive — potentially— would be David Chipman.

Chipman was nominated by the president to serve as leader of the ATF months ago but currently is stuck in the middle of a languishing confirmation fight in Congress.

A 25-year veteran of the ATF who retired in 2012, Chipman started his career in Norfolk, Virginia, coming to the agency during turbulent times: He was only weeks on the job after the ATF’s deadly and chaotic raid on David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian religious cult, unfolded near Waco, Texas.

Chipman also worked at the agency during both the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Regardless, it has been his gun-control advocacy that has soured some right-wing pundits and far-right-leaning Republican lawmakers on his nomination.

Chipman presently works as a top policy adviser at Giffords Law Center, the gun-control organization stood up by former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, who was shot, along with several other people, during a constituent meeting in Tucson 10 years ago.

In Congress, the souring against Chipman has featured the promotion of easily debunked stories about his resume  and attempted character assassinations, including suggestions that Chipman is a “liar” or that he had  “a role” in the Waco event.

Members of the Republican Study Committee in May, chaired by Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, issued a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Chipman was an “enemy of the Second Amendment” who would “use every tool at his disposal to attack American gun owners.”

Banks, like 167 other Republicans in the House of Representatives, is a regular recipient of political donations from the National Rifle Association. In 2020, the NRA donated $638,035 to Republicans in the House, Open Secrets reports. Alternatively, Democrats in 2020 received $13,687 from the NRA.

For the last six years, the directorship at the ATF has been technically vacant with acting directors filling in the role. Only two full-time directors have been confirmed by the Senate in the last 15 years.

Chipman’s opposition to ghost guns and assault rifles has won him much support from Democrats and during his confirmation hearing on June 7, as nominee was testifying, nine people were killed in a mass shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority light-rail yard in San Jose, California.

Stemming the flow of guns to those unfit to have them would become a priority, if nominated, he testified.

Beyond getting guns off the street, Biden also said during the meeting Thursday that his administration was committed to working with state and local law enforcement to fund mental health and substance abuse services. Funding is also flagged for job training and summer job training for teenagers.

“It will prevent crime and support young people to pick up a paycheck instead of a pistol,” Biden said.

And the administration plans on devoting resources to assisting the formerly incarcerated, essential to reducing greater crime and violence.

“Somebody gets out of jail right now, they get a bus ticket and $25. They end up under the same bridge they left,” he remarked.

According to the White House, services for housing, medical and mental health care, trauma care and food assistance are integral ways municipalities will need to spend the leftover relief funding. The Department of Labor this June awarded the Department of Labor $85.5 million to help the formerly incarcerated.


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