By a Biometrica staffer
President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that the United States is experiencing an epidemic of gun violence. On Wednesday, June 23, his administration unveiled an extremely detailed plan to combat this epidemic. The Biden-Harris Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety appears to cover everything from stemming the flow of firearms used to commit crimes and supporting local law enforcement officers with tools and resources, to helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter society. In today’s piece, we break down the White House factsheet on the strategy for you.
But, before we go there, here’s a quick look at the prevailing gun violence situation in the country. In its fact sheet, the White House spoke about an increase in violence over the past year and a half. It added that homicides rose 30%, and gun assaults rose 8% in large cities in 2020. The number of homicides in the first quarter of 2021 was 24% higher than the number of homicides in the first quarter of 2020, and 49% higher than in the first quarter of 2019. Black and brown Americans are disproportionately harmed by the direct and indirect consequences of gun violence.
There’s no doubt that the United States has been experiencing a surge in gun violence this year. There’s been a spate of mass shootings, including some prominent ones in Colorado and Indianapolis, and two separate ones in California, to name but a few. Waking up on Mondays to news of a violence-ridden weekend is becoming all too familiar in the U.S., tragically so. There have been 296 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). In comparison, there were 417 such incidents in all of 2019, and 610 in 2020, which was the highest in several years according to GVA data.
A mass shooting incident is defined by the GVA as one where four or more people are shot at, regardless of whether they are killed or injured, excluding the shooter. However, some consider a mass shooting as one where four or more have been killed.
Mass shootings are but one category of gun crime that the country has been witnessing. Just last Thursday, for instance, a two-year-old boy was shot dead and his nine-year-old brother was seriously injured while they were traveling on Interstate 75 in Detroit with their family. The little boy’s father said he saw a man holding a gun in a passing car. There are many such cases of gun violence that don’t qualify as mass shootings, but are just as devastating.
Summers are typically the toughest months for law enforcement agencies across the United States due to a seasonal surge in crimes. With more people out in warmer weather, particularly this year as Covid-19 restrictions ease, and an unrelenting increase in gun violence, law enforcement officers (LEOs) have already expressed concern over combating this year’s habitual spike. The Biden-Harris strategy aims, in part, to prepare for this year’s summer spike.
The Strategy In Brief
The new strategy aims to:
- Stem the flow of firearms used to commit violence, including by holding rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws
- Support local law enforcement with federal tools and resources to help address summer violent crime
- Invest in evidence-based community violence interventions
- Expand summer programming, employment opportunities, and other services and supports for teenagers and young adults
- Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities.
As we mentioned at the start of the piece, the White House factsheet is detailed and comprehensive. But, if you want a quick takeaway, here are some key points you need to know about the strategy:
- It creates zero tolerance for rogue gun dealers who willfully violate the law, and allows the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to revoke licenses of such dealers the very first time that they commit such a violation. The ATF will notify every firearms dealer whose license is revoked about how to lawfully transfer any remaining inventory, as well as the potential criminal consequences of continuing to engage in the business of buying and selling guns without a license.
- The Biden-Harris administration is also calling on Congress to increase funding for the ATF to hire more personnel so they can boost the number of inspections and enforcement actions taken against dealers in violation of federal law.
- Meanwhile, the ATF itself is also taking steps to help, including coordinating better with state and local officials who have on-ground knowledge of dealers who are supplying firearms that end up at crime scenes. It will also publicly post more detailed information about inspection findings and enforcement actions. For the first time, this publicly posted data will be disaggregated to show the number of inspections conducted in each field division, the number of inspections that identified violations, and actions taken by ATF to implement the wilful-violation policy.
- On Tuesday, June 22, as part of the administration’s strategy to combat the gun violence epidemic, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it would launch five cross-jurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces within the next 30 days to help reduce violent crime led by designated U.S. Attorneys who, in turn, will coordinate with the ATF. Through these strike forces, the DOJ plans to address illegal gun trafficking in significant firearms trafficking corridors that channel guns into New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C.
- Biden continues to call on Congress to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which gives gun dealers and manufacturers special immunity from certain liability for their products. He also strongly urged the Senate to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and pass the three House-approved bipartisan pieces of legislation that would strengthen the gun background check system.
- To deal with the habitual summer crime spike in particular, various law enforcement agencies are taking measures as part of the DOJ’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime, which it announced in May.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is making cutting-edge analytical resources available to state and local LEOs, the ATF is embedding with local homicide units and expanding the reach of one of its ballistic information tools, while the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is helping other law enforcement bodies disrupt the activities of the most violent drug trafficking gangs, and the United States Marshals Service is conducting fugitive sweeps throughout the country.
- The White House factsheet goes into several details on funding for the measures related to the strategy. For instance, the the Treasury Department said 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 certain purposes. Last month, the Treasury Department also said the ARP’s $350 billion fund could be used to invest in evidence-based community violence interventions (CVI). We will go into some detail about CVIs later on in this piece.
Applications for the Justice Department’s FY21 $276 million Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program are open now. Byrne JAG provides critical support to state and territory, local, and tribal governments across a range of program areas. The president is also seeking a $300 million increase for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring program in his recent budget request. These funds will advance community policing and give police the resources they need to keep their communities safe.
On June 21, the Department of Labor awarded $85.5 million to help formerly incarcerated adults and young people in 28 communities transition out of the criminal justice system and connect with quality jobs. We will also go into some detail about other steps that the administration plans to take to help formerly incarcerated individuals later on in this piece.
“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,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in his remarks on the administration’s strategy.
The Administration and other law enforcement agencies had already taken some steps to address gun violence previously. Key among those are:
- In April, Biden had announced an initial set of measures to tackle gun crimes, including one to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns.” What are ghost guns? Self-assembled firearms with parts that do not include serial numbers. As they’re handmade, they do not require background checks and the acquisition of a ghost gun skirts federal gun laws.
- On June 7, the DOJ issued model legislation for states to use as a blueprint to create their own extreme risk protection order (or ERPO) gun removal laws — sometimes called “red flag” laws. Red flag laws allow family members or LEOs to petition for a court order temporarily banning people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. By allowing family members or LEOs to intervene and to petition for these orders before warning signs turn into tragedy, ERPOs can save lives, the DOJ said.
For instance, the San Jose shooter is reported to have had a past filled with red flags including a history of alcohol abuse, sexual assault and rage against his coworkers.
- On the same day, i.e., June 7, the DOJ had also issued a notice of proposed rule-making that makes it clear that when individuals use accessories to convert pistols into short-barreled rifles, they must comply with heightened regulations on those “dangerous and easily concealable weapons.”
However, even as the Administration and law enforcement agencies have been trying to find ways to combat the gun violence epidemic, some states have passed laws that make it easier to carry firearms in public including Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Utah, and Montana. Just yesterday, June 23, the Wisconsin Senate sent a constitutionally questionable bill to Gov. Tony Evers that attempts to prevent federal gun laws from having any effect in the state. The State Senate passed Assembly Bill 293, meant to exempt firearms in Wisconsin from federal gun laws and regulations, on a voice vote. Similar measures have been found unconstitutional in other states because state laws can’t override federal ones.
Excerpts From The Fact Sheet: Community Violence Interventions
CVI programs have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60%, the Administration’s factsheet states. These programs are effective because they leverage trusted messengers who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts, and connect people to social, health and wellness, and economic services to reduce the likelihood of violence as an answer to conflict. The Administration will convene and support a CVI Collaborative of 15 jurisdictions that are committing to use a portion of their ARP funding or other public funding to increase investment in their CVI infrastructure. Those jurisdictions are:
- Atlanta, GA
- Austin, TX
- Baltimore, MD
- Baton Rouge, LA
- Chicago, IL
- Detroit, MI
- King County, WA
- Los Angeles, CA
- Memphis, TN
- Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN
- Newark, NJ
- Philadelphia, PA
- Rapid City, SD
- St. Louis, MO
- Washington, D.C.
Over the next 18 months, the Administration will convene meetings with officials from these communities, facilitate peer-to-peer learning, and provide technical assistance. It will also convene the first CVI Webinar Series event on June 23. The webinar series will bring together subject matter experts to discuss immediate steps communities and local organizations can take to reduce violence. The Administration is continuing to seek a historic $5.2 billion investment in new grant funding for CVI programs through the American Jobs Plan and its FY22 discretionary budget request, the White House fact sheet says.
On June 10, the Department of Labor awarded $89 million through its YouthBuild program to provide pre-apprenticeship opportunities for young people ages 16-24. Young people are disproportionately likely to be involved in gun violence, either as perpetrators or victims. But youth employment programs, including summer jobs programs, can reduce their involvement in violence by as much as 35% or 45%, the factsheet says. Also on June 10, the Department of Labor awarded $20 million through its Workforce Pathways for Youth program to expand workforce development activities that serve youth ages 14–21 during non-school hours.
Excerpts From The Factsheet: Helping The Formerly Incarcerated Re-Enter Society
Formerly incarcerated individuals face an uphill climb in landing a job. Many employers are reluctant to hire them out of stigma, fear, or concern that they lack the skills needed for the job. But employment is a key to formerly incarcerated individuals’ successful reentry into their communities.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will evaluate the existence of any barriers faced by formerly incarcerated persons in accessing federal employment and consider whether the federal government should take further action as appropriate, including creating a new “Schedule A” excepted service hiring authority for formerly incarcerated persons. This Schedule A hiring authority would allow federal agencies to hire qualified individuals for any job opening through the non-competitive, excepted service hiring process.
OPM will also publish proposed regulations to implement the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019’s “ban the box” policy. The Fair Chance Act prohibits federal employers and federal contractors in all three branches of government from inquiring into arrest and conviction history until they have made a conditional job offer.
The DOJ plans to post an application next month for a formerly incarcerated individual to work at DOJ as a Second Chance Act visiting fellow. This is a unique opportunity to draw on the expertise of a formerly incarcerated person as a policy advocate, legal or social services provider, or academic focusing on the successful reintegration of people returning home to their communities after incarceration. The fellow will develop innovative strategies that build upon and improve DOJ’s investments in reentry and reintegration.
The Department of Labor and the Treasury Department will help employers leverage the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which includes incentivizes to hire formerly incarcerated individuals. Under WOTC, employers can receive up to a $2,400 credit against federal income taxes for hiring a person within one year of their conviction or release from prison for a felony offense. Within 90 days, the Departments will issue guidance, provide technical assistance to state workforce agencies, and release materials on ways employers can leverage this tax credit and other resources, such as the Federal Bonding Program and the American Rescue Plan’s Employee Retention Credit (ERC).
HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge is issuing a letter outlining actions that HUD is taking to improve public safety by addressing the housing needs of returning citizens, including through the recently awarded 70,000 emergency housing vouchers funded by the American Rescue Plan. The letter clarifies that returning citizens that are at-risk of homelessness are among the eligible populations for these emergency housing vouchers.