US President Joe Biden on Wednesday launched a new crime prevention strategy amid soaring gun violence across the country, focusing on illegal sale of firearms, law-breaking gun dealers and better community support.
"Crime historically rises during the summer and as we emerge from this pandemic, with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may even be more pronounced than it traditionally would be," Biden said in a speech from the White House.
"Folks, this (gun violence) shouldn't be a red or blue issue," Biden said. "It's an American issue."
The president said that cities and states can use their portions of 350 billion US dollars in direct aid from the COVID-19 rescue plan, which was approved by Congress in March, to enhance public safety, including hiring more police officers and other law enforcement officials.
Public schools can also use their share of 122 billion dollars in rescue money in community violence intervention programs and other public safety strategies, Biden said.
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"This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities," said the president, distancing himself from progressive calls for "defunding the police."
Under the plan, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will revoke federal licenses of gun dealers the first time they violate the federal law. Violations could include selling firearms to a prohibited buyer, failing to run required background checks and falsifying firearm transaction forms or other records.
The Justice Department plans to create multi-jurisdictional "firearms trafficking strike forces" to reduce the illegal flow of firearms to high-crime areas like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and the Bay Area.
"So legal guns sold from the backdoor of a gun shop in Virginia don't end up in a murder scene in Baltimore," Biden said.
The Biden administration is collaborating with 15 jurisdictions that have seen high rates of gun crime to bolster community violence intervention programs. Among the partner locales are Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Detroit and St. Louis.
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The strategy also includes Labor Department programs to expand summer employment and programs for youth and to help formerly imprisoned people enter the workforce.
"We know that summer jobs, training and recreation for young people work," Biden said. "They help make sure young people pick up a paycheck instead of a pistol."
The president again urged Congress to pass sweeping gun control legislations, including an expansion of background checks for firearm purchases and a federal ban on assault weapons, though little progress on those policies has been made in the evenly split Senate.
Ahead of Biden's speech, Attorney General Merrick Garland met with a group of local law enforcement officials and community leaders in the White House.
The murder rate in the country rose from five murders per 100,000 people in 2019 to roughly 6.2 per 100,000 in 2020, though still well below the rates of previous decades, showed preliminary data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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A sample of 37 US cities with data for the first three months of this year saw an 18 percent spike in murders compared with the same time period in 2020, according to a New York Times report.
Through the first 172 days of 2021, gun violence killed 9,420 Americans, an average of 55 people a day, data collected by the Gun Violence Archive showed. The figures include homicides and accidental gun deaths but not suicides.
Many experts fear gun violence will get even worse this summer, when it historically goes up with the arrival of warm weather. Furthermore, most states have relaxed COVID-19 restrictions after months of shutdowns.
The hike of crime and violence is a potential trouble for Biden and Democratic lawmakers ahead of the 2022 mid-term elections as Republicans are trying to brand Democrats as weak on crime.
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