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President Biden said U.S. gun violence is an “embarrassment” as he announced a series of actions to tighten firearms regulations.
President Biden announced Thursday his administration’s first steps to combat gun violence with a series of measures that include the publication of model “red flag” legislation states can use and an increase in funding for local violence prevention programs.
Biden outlined immediate steps the U.S. Department of Justice will take to regulate and track firearms, including “ghost guns,” which can be built from gun kits in about 30 minutes and do not have serial numbers. But he also called on Congress to enact broader reforms like an assault weapons ban.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and an international embarrassment,” said Biden during a press conference at the White House.
The Justice Department will be tasked with drafting model “red flag” legislation that states can rely on to help get firearms out of the hands of people who are considered a danger to themselves or others. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have red flag laws on the books, and Attorney General Merrick Garland said the publication of the model legislation could help others draft and enact laws, which enable law enforcement or a gun owner’s family member to petition a court to have firearms temporarily removed from a person’s possession.
“I want to see a national red flag law and legislation to incentivize states to enact their own red flag laws,” Biden said.
Noting the rise of homicides in cities across the country last year, Biden said he also wants to help communities better address gun violence through community-run violence intervention initiatives. He directed five federal agencies to make changes to 26 grant programs in order to provide more financial support toward these types of initiatives. The Justice Department alone will target $1 billion toward grant programs meant to reduce gun violence, Garland said.
“Communities are an essential partner, an asset and a source of resources and ideas,” Garland said. “Those who are closest to the problem are a critical part in solving the problem.”
One notable grant program, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, allocates $484 million in grants to state and local police and public safety agencies. In its next round of Byrne JAG grants, to be issued later this year, the Justice Department will place a special emphasis on community violence intervention programs.
Nearly 20,000 people were killed with firearms last year and another 24,000 people committed suicide with a firearm, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Police and criminologists have struggled to pinpoint the cause for surging gun violence last year—homicides rose by more than 50% in dozens of major cities across the United States.
The measures Biden proposed, which also include tighter restrictions on pistol stabilizing braces that allow weapons to be used more accurately, fall short of the kind of sweeping action the president previously endorsed. Biden acknowledged more will need to be done to reduce gun violence, and called on Congress to approve legislation that would enact universal background checks and dismantle immunity laws that prevent gun manufacturers from being sued by gun violence victims.
The initiatives are a good start to addressing gun violence in cities, said U.S. Conference of Mayors President Greg Fischer.
“Gun violence stemming from easy access to guns has been rocking our cities for decades, leaving friends and families of victims to soothe aching wounds with platitudes of thoughts and prayers,” Fischer said in a statement. “The actions announced today by President Biden are both sorely needed and a welcome step towards reducing the violence plaguing our country – violence that has only escalated during the pandemic.”
But the announcement had Second Amendment advocates on the defensive, concerned that the Biden administration will go to further regulate firearms.
Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said his organization would wait for the Justice Department to publish its proposed rules before pursuing legal action.
“The devil will be in the details,” Gottlieb said. “Our legal team will review them and we are prepared to file suit if Biden and his administration steps over their legal authority.”
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.