Posted on June 28, 2021

Biden Lays Out Strategy to Tackle Rising Homicides

Annie Linskey, Washington Post, June 22, 2021

Responding to a spike in homicides across the country, President Biden on Wednesday laid out an anti-crime strategy from the White House that cracks down on gun stores that don’t follow federal rules, steps up programs for recently released convicts and provides more support for police departments across the country.

The speech is an attempt by the White House to show it is being proactive on an issue that historically has been politically difficult for Democrats and to refocus attention on its efforts to beef up gun regulations.

It comes as local officials and experts fear the problem will only worsen over the coming months.

“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 be more pronounced than it usually would be,” Biden said.

Although overall crime was down last year, according to FBI data, the murder rate rose about 25 percent and violent crime about 3 percent. Officials have offered many reasons for the increase, including huge numbers of gun sales over the past year along with the lingering stress from the pandemic.


Biden is familiar with the potency of that GOP line of attack. In the 1990s, the last time that violence dominated the news for a sustained period of time, “law and order” became a major campaign issue. Biden wrote a series of anti-crime measures, including a 1994 crime bill that critics say led to mass incarceration. The measure included some initiatives Democrats like, including a temporary ban on assault weapons.

Crime has again become a dominant issue in a slew of local campaigns, most notably the New York mayoral race, where a former police officer with a tough-on-crime posture is leading in Democratic primary.

Biden seized on the moment to press the case for tighter gun restrictions, pointing to the gap between the increase in homicides and other types of crime as a function of the ease with which guns can be obtained.

The White House also sees a political advantage in focusing on gun control as a way to stem the violence: The issue polls well among Democrats and independents, as opposed to stiffening sentences or backing aggressive policing tactics, policies favored by the right.

Democrats are divided over how to respond to the violence as it pertains to empowering police. Many in the party’s establishment political wing believe positions such as “defunding the police” hurt them in the 2020 election, while the left flank sees the crime wave as a potential obstacle to changing police practices. But they are unified in seeing tougher gun enforcement as a potential solution.

Republicans have sought to paint the entire Democratic Party with anti-policing slogans. “From city councils to the halls of Congress, many on the far left decided to crank the knob all the way up on anti-cop rhetoric, across the board,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during a floor speech in May.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who chairs the official Senate campaign committee to reelect Republicans, said that GOP candidates will focus on crime in the midterm elections. {snip}

But Democratic strategists say that the party must be willing to talk about crime without being cowed by their opponents.

“There is no reason that Democrats shouldn’t tackle this issue straight on,” said James Carville, a top strategist to President Bill Clinton as he grappled with a spike in violence in the 1990s.

“It’s a national issue that requires a robust federal response.”

Still, he warned that the issue can dog whoever is in power.

“People do not like disorder of any kind,” Carville said. “It doesn’t matter. They just don’t. And right now people feel like — you can’t blame Biden for it — but there’s disorder in the country and he’s got to be out front.”

Biden will direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to seek to revoke licenses from gun sellers the first time they are caught willfully selling a weapon to a person who is not permitted to have one, neglecting to run a required background check or ignoring a federal request to provide trace information about a weapon used in a crime.

For those who fail to comply, Biden said, “My message is this: We will find you and we will seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”

The policy attacks a source of crime guns, which in some instances can be traced to sloppy or irresponsible dealers, experts say.


The president also wants to reduce recidivism.

Biden said he would open opportunities to those leaving prison, including hiring more of them in federal jobs and encouraging businesses to do so. Biden also wants to offer additional federal housing vouchers for them, according to administration officials.