WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he would crack down on rising crime rates and gun trafficking as law enforcement officials brace for what could be another violent summer.
Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland used a White House setting to unveil plans to step up enforcement of current gun laws by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and to target gun trafficking across state lines and sales to those who fail background checks.
The president’s push for increased enforcement was a message to gun sellers who provide guns to those prohibited from possessing weapons: “We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets,” he said.
Garland said the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would crack down on gun dealers who produce and traffic in illegal guns, those who provide weapons to felons or to people without running background checks.
“We will hold gun dealers that break the rules accountable for their actions,” Garland said.
Gun dealers who fail to comply with background checks and willfully violate current gun laws will have their licenses revoked, Garland said.
Biden also urged Congress to pass laws to strengthen background checks on gun buyers, including extending background checks to sales between private parties, and to outlaw high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons.
Divide on gun laws
Proposed gun control bills have stalled in Congress, as Democrats push for tighter controls but Republicans object on Second Amendment grounds to laws that would penalize law-abiding gun owners.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, immediately accused the Biden administration of trying to confiscate guns and “defund the police” to cater to the ideological left of the Democratic Party. Republicans and gun rights groups have said that additional laws do little to stop criminals, and that current laws aren’t adequately enforced.
Cruz and fellow Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, in fact, have repeatedly introduced gun legislation that would criminalize straw purchases of firearms, better address mental health issues and improve the background check database for gun crimes.
Biden has said he opposes “defund the police” efforts and said new regulations would not affect “responsible gun owners or Second Amendment rights.”
“We’re not changing the Constitution, we’re enforcing it,” Biden said.
The White House provided statistics that show the number of gun-related deaths have continued to climb since the pandemic and that mass shootings, such as the Oct. 1, 2017 Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting in Las Vegas, continue to occur with increasing regularity.
The tragedy on the Las Vegas Strip claimed 60 lives and remains the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, according to the FBI.
White House statistics show over the past 18 months, homicides rose 30 percent and gun assaults rose 8 percent in large cities. Homicides in the first quarter of 2021 was 24 percent higher than 2020 and 49 percent higher than 2019.
Relief money for enforcement
The Biden administration is urging states, counties and cities, which received $350 billion in COVID-19 federal relief funds, to spend some of the money on law enforcement and crime fighting.
Nevada, its counties and larger cities like Las Vegas, Reno, Henderson, North Las Vegas and others collectively received $2.7 billion. Justice Department grants to local law enforcement agencies are available to help cities bolster training and personnel to crack down on crime.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., has filed bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program in fiscal year 2022. That program helps local anti-crime and law enforcement efforts, administration officials said.
Targeting ‘ghost guns’
Biden signed executive orders in April that included the prohibition of large-capacity ammunition magazines, and “ghost guns,” functional weapons made from kits and without serial numbers used to track conventional weapons.
The Nevada Legislature also passed a bill this year to ban the so-called ghost guns, Assembly Bill 286, but a gun-rights group has sued, contending the law violates the Second Amendment.
The Biden administration crackdown on gun violence comes as current background check bills have passed the Democratically controlled House but remain stalled in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans are divided 50-50, and Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tiebreaking vote.
It also comes as the nation’s mayors prepare for a summer following a pandemic and incidents that have prompted police reform legislation and efforts to address institutional racism.
Protests that turned violent and resulted in looting and vandalism broke out last summer in cities that included Las Vegas.
Biden said cities could use federal assistance to hire police officers, court personnel and other law enforcement officials to pre-pandemic levels.