President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday laid out a plan to curtail gun violence across the country, which includes several measures focused on stemming the stream of firearms used in crimes.
The president has long sought gun control measures pushed by most Democratic lawmakers, including an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun purchases, which he mentioned during his speech.
“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,” he said. “I’ve been at this a long time, and there are things we know that reduce gun violence and violent crime, and things we don’t know.”
He added: “Background checks for purchasing a firearm are important … the ban on assault weapons at high-capacity magazines. No one needs to have a weapon that can fire up to 100 rounds, unless you think the deer are wearing kevlar vests or something.”
A key focus of the administration will be the pursuit of gun sellers who violate existing law, with Biden stating that the Department of Justice would have a “zero tolerance” approach to such incidents.
“We are announcing a major crackdown the stem of flow of guns used to commit violent crimes,” he said.”It is zero tolerance for those who willfully violate key existing laws and regulations.”
He added: “If you willfully sell a gun to someone who is prohibited from possessing it, if you willfully fail to run a background check, if you willfully falsify a record, if you willfully fail to cooperate with the tracing requests or inspections, my message to you is this … ‘We’ll find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns.'”
In his speech, Biden also stressed that state and local officials in areas that are experiencing increases in crime can utilize $350 billion in funding from the $1.9 COVID-19 relief package known as the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in March.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced new strike forces aimed at tackling gun trafficking in five key metropolitan regions – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, and Washington, DC.
Biden’s actions come as violent crime has become an issue as the country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which created sustained economic hardship for millions of Americans.
After the May 2020 murder of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police, the calls for justice were immediate, especially among Black Americans.
While Biden, who has a long legislative record on criminal justice issues as a senator and as vice president, has so far risen above becoming an effective foil for Republicans, increases in violent crime have become an issue in many cities.
According to criminologists, homicide rates in large US cities rose by more than 30 percent on average last year, and rates were up by another 24 percent for the beginning of the year, The New York Times reported.
Biden has vehemently opposed the “defunding” of police departments and has backed bipartisan talks aimed at crafting police reform legislation.
On Wednesday, Biden and Garland also led an anti-violence meeting at the White House with Democratic Mayors Brandon Scott of Baltimore and Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County, along with GOP Mayor Steve Allender of Rapid City, S.D., New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Baton Rouge, La., police chief Murphy Paul, and several community activists.
Retired New York City Police Department detective Pat Brosnan first connected the latest shooting to an overall “lack of enforcement” of laws and a lack of respect for law enforcement. He then claimed, without evidence, that more Americans getting vaccinated will cause more mass shootings, arguing that mass shooters were previously too scared of COVID-19 to commit violence.
“This is a time that I wish I was wrong with my prediction, which I mention to anybody who would listen, that once COVID starts to lift, these cowardly shooters will come out exactly in tandem with the number of vaccinations. You can be sure they probably got vaccinated, they were just scared to come out,” Brosnan said. “And they’re coming back. And you see the numbers don’t lie, shootings are up dramatically, skyrocketing actually on active shootings in the United States.”
On Tuesday, the network’s daytime news programming featured a recurring segment from a Johns Hopkins doctor about the value of vaccines and natural immunity against COVID-19.
The on-the-fly analysis from Brosnan with no evidence to back up his claim marks the latest coronavirus whiplash on the cable news powerhouse.
Authorities confirmed Wednesday that a shooter caused multiple fatalities and injuries at a Valley Transit Authority rail yard in San Jose.
The latest violence in San Jose follows other high-profile mass shootings at a series of spas in Atlanta, a grocery store in Boulder, and a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis, among others.
Contrary to Brosnan’s claims, mass shootings didn’t slow down during COVID-19 – the pandemic largely took mass shooting events and all gun violence behind closed doors and onto city streets, instead of in spaces like stores and workplaces.
Data from the Gun Violence Archive found that mass shootings, defined as shooting events that kill four or more people, increased from 417 in 2019 to 610 in 2020.
Two months ago my column focused on the need to take action to address America’s gun crisis. I was worried mass shootings would speed up as the COVID pandemic slowed down. But none of us could have imagined how tragic the following weeks would be.
So far, our lawmakers have provided the usual pablum. The Republicans have, as usual, offered their thoughts and prayers, while offering nothing substantive besides making it easier to obtain a gun. While Democrats from various states have proposed and even passed gun control measures in the wake of these shootings, and Joe Biden has released a list of proposals to help curb the violence, nothing has been done to truly end the epidemic of gun deaths ravaging this country.
What level of tragedy would finally force this country to make real change?
What’s it going to take?
Since the first modern mass shooting at Columbine High School, the US has failed to move in a substantial way on gun safety. While there have been red flag laws passed in some (mostly Democratic) states, just as many states have loosened their firearm laws to allow for open and concealed carry. Federal legislation has gone nowhere, and the Supreme Court has ruled in the District of Columbia vs. Heller that Americans have a fundamental right to possess firearms.
As people across the US have started to get vaccinated against COVID, the veneer of protection against gun deaths is fading and there is no vaccine-like solution on the horizon.
And much like misinformation that drove up the case and death toll during the pandemic, the increase in mass shootings and corresponding inaction of Congress tie directly back to the rise of the extreme right media on cable and social media.
Other countries don’t have the same problem. After a horrific mass shooting in 1996, Australia outlawed assault-style weapons. Despite what Republicans might have you believe, Australia has not turned into a despotic dictatorship over the intervening 25 years. In fact, most every other country on Earth has fewer guns and fewer gun deaths than the United States.
Now or never
President Joe Biden has juggled a number of crises in his short time in office, but he has not prioritized gun safety. He urged Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which like background checks is very popular with voters. Perhaps he can come up with a different, uniquely American solution to this uniquely American problem.
It is understandable that Joe Biden doesn’t want to lose his frighteningly narrow majorities in Congress, but his party must take action now while they have the opportunity to get it done. The Democrats have the ideas, they have the public’s support, and they have numbers. The only thing, it would seem, that they are missing is the political will to make a change.
After a full year of one kind of devastating tragedy, we have been faced with a month of another. One that in some ways feels more tangible than a virus. In the 100 days since Biden’s inauguration, he has shown he is up to the task of fighting the invisible killer that has been plaguing America for the past year. Now he must step up and fight the killer that has damaged and taken the lives of thousands of Americans for the past 30.
According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 150 mass shootings in 2021 at the time of publication. As Insider’s Haven Orecchio-Egresitz and Hannah Beckler reported, shootings have been up nearly 73% compared to last year during the same time span.
Following the shooting in Indiana, President Joe Biden released a statement on Friday calling gun violence “an epidemic in America.”
“Last week, I called on the Justice Department to better protect Americans from gun violence. I also urged Congress to hear the call of the American people – including the vast majority of gun owners – to enact commonsense gun violence prevention legislation, like universal background checks and a ban of war and high-capacity magazines,” Biden said in the statement.
He continued: “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation. We can, and must, do more to act and to save lives.”
“President Biden is reiterating his call for Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence,” the statement said. “But this Administration will not wait for Congress to act to take its own steps – fully within the Administration’s authority and the Second Amendment – to save lives.”
The actions, which do not have to go through Congress, include tackling “ghost guns,” drafting model “red flag” laws, and a firearms-trafficking report.
“Ghost guns” are firearms that are built at home by buying individual parts or kits that contain the parts. They are fully functioning guns that do not have a serial number or other identifying information, making them difficult to trace when recovered after a crime.
Biden is giving the Justice Department 30 days to draft a proposed rule that would “help stop the proliferation of these firearms.”
The Justice Department also has 60 days to draft model “red flag” legislation for states. Red flag laws allow family members or friends to alert authorities and seek a court order against someone obtaining a gun if they believe them to be a danger to themselves or others. Biden is encouraging Congress to pass a federal red flag law but wants model legislation for states working to pass their own laws.
Another action includes directing the Justice Department to issue a “new, comprehensive report on firearms trafficking and annual updates” that lawmakers can use when addressing gun trafficking. According to the statement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms issued a firearms-trafficking report in 2000 that lawmakers still use today to draft policy.
The announcement also outlined multiple ways the administration plans to invest in “evidence-based community violence interventions,” including a $5 billion investment in Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
“Community violence interventions are proven strategies for reducing gun violence in urban communities through tools other than incarceration,” the statement said.
The Justice Department will also devise a rule within 60 days that determines when a pistol equipped with a stabilizing brace is more like a rifle, and thus falls under the National Firearms Act. The statement says the suspected shooter at the grocery store in Colorado last month “appears to have used a pistol with an arm brace, which can make a firearm more stable and accurate while still being concealable.”
The White House also named David Chipman as Biden’s nomination for Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Chipman worked in the bureau for decades and currently works as an adviser to a gun control advocacy group.
Three people died and four were injured after a shooting at a house party early Saturday morning in Wilmington, North Carolina.
According to a series of tweets and a post on the Wilmington Police Department’s Facebook page, officers responded to a call that shots were being fired. After arriving at the location just after midnight, officers found “a gunfight had erupted inside the house during a house party.”
The department did not immediately identify a motive or publicly named the victims.
“Our hearts go out to all affected by this senseless violence, and we ask that anyone with information surrounding this incident please come forward so that we may find justice,” the post said.
“In my more than two decades as a prosecutor this is one of the worst crimes we have ever had in the Port City,” New Hanover District Attorney Ben David told Wilmington’s WECT 6. “The community’s unimaginable grief must be met with an equal commitment to get justice for all of the victims in this case.”
Here’s a summary of some of the more common and contentious terms linked to guns and the broader discourse surrounding them in the US.
Semi-automatic vs. automatic
A semi-automatic firearm refers to a gun that fires a single round or bullet each time the trigger is squeezed or pulled, and then automatically reloads the chamber between shots.
An automatic firearm is essentially what many Americans likely think of as a machine gun, or a firearm that continuously fires while the trigger is squeezed or pulled and reloads the chamber automatically.
The vast majority of firearms in the US are semi-automatic and include rifles and handguns. Semi-automatic firearms are available across the US with few restrictions.
Automatic weapons are heavily regulated and expensive.
The manufacture and importation of new automatic firearms has been prohibited since the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986. But this still allows for the purchase of automatic firearms made before a certain date in 1986, meaning automatics are technically legal in certain circumstances.
Magazine vs. clip
“Magazine” and “clip” are often used interchangeably, though they aren’t the same thing.
A magazine is a container that holds cartridges or rounds of ammunition and feeds them into the firing chamber of a gun. Some magazines are internal, while others are detachable.
A clip holds multiple rounds of ammunition together, often on a metal strip, to be fed into a magazine. Most guns have magazines (revolvers and some types of shotguns do not have magazines), but not all firearms use clips.
“Assault-weapons” is among the most contentious phrases in discussions on gun control.
There’s not a universal definition of what an assault weapon is, which is part of the reason this subject tends to antagonize the gun lobby or pro-gun advocates.
But in 1994, after the now-expired assault-weapons ban passed, the Justice Department said, “In general, assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.”
The gun industry often defines an assault rifle as a firearm with “select fire capabilities,” or the ability to adjust or switch the firearm between semi-automatic and automatic settings or modes.
In short, pro-Second Amendment groups typically say a firearm should only be called an assault-weapon when it’s capable of fully automatic fire — or they reject the terminology altogether.
“None of the so-called ‘assault rifles’ legally owned by US civilians are assault rifles as the term is used in military contexts,” Florida State University criminal justice professor emeritus Gary Kleck, told PolitiFact.
Kleck added, “Assault rifles used by members of the military can all fire full automatic, like machine guns, as well as one shot at a time, whereas none of the so-called ‘assault rifles’ legally owned by US civilians can fire full automatic.”
Based on the idiosyncrasies of this issue and the broader debate surrounding it, many gun control advocates tend to refer to semi-automatic firearms that have been used in mass shootings as “assault-style” or “military-style” weapons.
The “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle,” but is linked to the original manufacturer of the firearm: ArmaLite, Inc. The name stands for ArmaLite Rifle.
The AR-15 was originally developed by ArmaLite to be a military rifle, designing it for fast reloading in combat situations, but the company hit financial troubles. By 1959, ArmaLite sold the design of the AR-15 to Colt, which had success in pitching it to the US military.
The rifle’s automatic version, the M-16, was used during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Colt sold the semi-automatic version, the AR-15, to the public and police.
Colt’s patent on the rifle’s operating system expired in 1977, opening the door for other manufacturers to copy the technology and make their own models.
The AR-15 was prohibited from 1994 to 2004 via the assault weapons ban. Gun manufacturers promptly reintroduced the AR-15 after the ban expired, and sales went way up.
There are “well over 11 million” AR-15 style rifles in the hands of Americans, according to an investigation by CBS News’s “60 Minutes,” which also notes handguns kill “far more people.”
But AR-15 style rifles have frequently been used in mass shootings, placing the firearm at the center of the debate over gun control — particularly in relation to whether an assault weapons ban should be reimposed.
High-capacity magazines are capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition, allowing for dozens of shots to be fired off before reloading. The rifle used in a 2019 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, was affixed with a 100-round drum magazine.
A bump stock is an attachment that allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire at a more rapid rate.
It replaces the standard stock of a rifle, or the part of the firearm that rests against the shoulder. A bump stock uses the recoil effect to bounce the rifle off of the shoulder of the shooter, which in turn causes the trigger to continuously bump back into the shooter’s trigger finger.
In effect, bump stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns.
Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk laws, allow judges to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms if they’re considered a danger to themselves or others.
Nineteen states and Washington, DC, have implemented some form of a red flag law, according to Everytown for Gun Safety: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Gun show loophole
The so-called “gun show loophole” is among the most discussed topics in relation to calls for gun reform advocates for expanded background checks.
“Gun show loophole” is a catch-all phrase referring to the sale of firearms by unlicensed, private sellers at gun shows and other venues — including the internet — without the involvement of background checks.
Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks, but not all sellers are required to be licensed — laws vary from state to state. In this sense, there is a “loophole” that allows private sellers to sell firearms without conducting background checks.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that licenses gun dealers.
“As a general rule, you will need a license if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit,” the ATF states. “In contrast, if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”
The implementation of a federal law requiring universal background checks, or background checks for all gun sales, has been at the top of the wish list for gun control advocates for years.
There were 19,379 gun violence deaths in the US in 2020, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. This statistic excludes suicides involving guns, which consistently account for a majority (roughly two-thirds) of annual US gun deaths. In 2020, Gun Violence Archive found there were 24,090 gun suicides.
Since Gun Violence Archive started tracking firearm violence in 2013, annual gun violence deaths generally fluctuated between 12,000 and 15,000. The next highest year after 2020 was 2017, when there were 15,718 gun violence deaths.
The recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado, which both occured less than a week apart, led many on social media to suggest that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and gradual return to normalcy would translate into a spike in mass shootings in 2021.
Former President Barack Obama, for example, in a statement responding to the Atlanta and Boulder shootings said, “A once-in-a-century pandemic cannot be the only thing that slows mass shootings in this country.”
But mass shootings actually increased in 2020 as compared to 2019, according to Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as four or more people being shot or killed in a single incident (excluding the shooter). There were 611 mass shootings in 2020, up from 417 in 2019.
That said, there is not a universally agreed upon definition of mass shootings. Gun Violence Archive’s standard is fairly broad compared to those used by other databases that define mass shootings as an incident in which four or more are fatally shot, not including the shooter.
But many experts say that defining mass shootings based on how many are shot rather than the number killed offers a fuller picture of the scale of gun violence in the US. It also helps highlight incidents that generally don’t make headlines and disproportionately impact Black Americans and people of color. Public mass shootings also account for just a fraction of total gun deaths in the US, and focusing on them can lead to myopic perspectives on gun violence.
“The difference between a fatality and a survivor might be simply a matter of marksmanship,” Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, recently told ABC News. “There’s no such thing as an insignificant life. We pay extra attention when a bunch of lives are lost all at once in a single event. We’re less aware of all the people who die or are shot or survive one at a time.”
Last month, President Joe Biden took the oath of office and vowed to guide our nation through the many crises we face. Since then, he has wasted no time in getting to work on the pandemic, our crippled economy, racial injustice, and the global climate crisis.
But of all the many issues on Biden’s agenda, there’s one that has received little air time: gun safety. With Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, this might be our best chance in decades to take steps towards meaningful reform that could stem the deadly tide.
The next crisis on the agenda
The national conversation about gun safety, like so many other issues, has been largely silenced by the all-consuming pandemic. But before the virus arrived, mass shootings were tragically pervasive.
Gun deaths have risen steadily in recent years, and mass shootings are becoming more frequent and more deadly. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, El Paso, Dayton, Santa Fe High, the Las Vegas strip, Sandy Hook, and countless other tragedies have been constant reminders to Americans of the urgency of the gun crisis.
In 2018, students nationwide joined the March For Our Lives movement and walked out of classrooms in protest of our government’s failure to pass gun safety legislation. It seemed that America had finally reached a tipping point – that much-needed reform could no longer be ignored. And yet, while the movement compelled Florida’s governor at the time, Rick Scott, to break from the NRA and sign a sweeping gun safety bill for his state, larger national legislation like universal background checks never escaped the Republican Senate’s legislative graveyard.
But while the movement has yet to yield major national policy victories, it has made significant strides in the court of public opinion.
When the virus finally recedes, the energy around the gun safety movement will return, likely, sadly, following another tragedy. High-profile shootings will once again bring gun violence to national headlines. Soon, more students and workers will be back to routine, traumatic active shooter drills. Our return to relatively normalcy will mean a return to the normal tragedy that is the American gun crisis, which is why now is the time for congressional Democrats and strong-willed Republican allies to act.
Two weeks ago, on the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Biden called on Congress to institute “commonsense gun law reform,” signaling that a concerted push is hopefully on the horizon. With the president on board, a blue House and Senate, and overwhelming public support for gun safety legislation, there is real reason to be optimistic about our government finally breaking the stalemate that has held for over a quarter century. But it won’t be easy. The slim Democratic Senate majority means that gaining support from the center of the chamber – moderates of both parties – is critical.
Not all moderates have voted along party lines on gun issues in the past. For example, in the 2013 vote on the Manchin-Toomey bill, a limited gun background check measure, nine senators strayed from their party. So for every Democratic moderate who may balk at proposed gun policy, you may get a Republican to sign on. Democratic leaders will have to be surgical in crafting policy that will enable them to secure moderate votes, particularly if the filibuster remains intact.
As a starting point, Democrats need to take the first steps of change that can get through a closely divided Congress. For example, Ethan’s Law, which simply requires households with children to lock firearms – rather than restricting gun sales – may be a foot in the door. Measures that aim to close loopholes in existing policy like Jaime’s Law, which mandates background checks to buy ammunition, may also be more achievable in the near-term than reviving an assault weapons ban.
The opposition to gun safety measures has one approach: no change, no compromise. But if we continue to do nothing, we will guarantee the return of mass domestic shootings in a post-pandemic world.
Democrats need to face reality that the clock is ticking. If historical midterm election patterns hold, Democrats will lose their narrow majority in the House next year. This may be the last best hope to do something meaningful for a very long time, so Democrats must act with urgency.
Biden and the Democratic Party have rightfully and accurately triaged the mess of crises left in the wake of the previous administration. However, the gun violence issue isn’t going away and will continue to cost our country precious lives until meaningful reform is passed. On the heels of a record-shattering year for firearm sales, it’s never been a more critical time to act.
Democrats must not squander this rare opportunity to deliver lifesaving reform that the American people demand.