Taking on Gun Crime and Violence with a Whole-of-Government Approach
In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Biden highlighted his comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence. He emphasized the $350 billion in American Rescue Plan funds that we’ve made available for cities, counties, and states that enable them to hire more police and invest in proven strategies like community violence intervention. He talked about our efforts to crack down on difficult-to-trace “ghost guns,” part of an aggressive array of executive actions to reduce gun violence, taking more steps than any other Administration in its first year. And he repeated his call for Congress to take further action tackle the gun violence epidemic that continues to take more than 100 lives each day.
We have made strong progress by rolling out and executing on the President’s comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy. This strategy contains five key components:
- Stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violence,
- Supporting local law enforcement with federal tools and resources to put more cops on the beat and address violent crime
- Investing in evidence-based community violence interventions
- Expanding summer programming, employment opportunities, and other services and supports for teenagers and young adults to give them pathways away from crime
- Helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities instead of re-offending.
You can read a full summary of the progress we’ve made here. We are pulling all of the levers of the federal government to address this crisis. For example:
- The President secured a bipartisan investment in fighting gun crime, including a new $50 million initiative to expand community violence interventions, additional funding for community policing, and the resources the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) needs to continue to enforce our existing gun laws.
- The Administration made American Rescue Plan funds available for fighting gun crime, and cities and states across the country have taken up this opportunity.
- The Justice Department is taking regulatory action to rein in the proliferation of “ghost guns”—unserialized, homemade firearms that are difficult for law enforcement to trace.
- The Justice Department launched five new law enforcement strike forces focused on addressing firearms trafficking, including on the “Iron Pipeline” – the illegal flow of guns sold in the south, transported up the East Coast, and found at crime scenes from Baltimore to New York City.
- In part due to action by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Connecticut and Illinois enacted legislation that allows Medicaid to reimburse providers for hospital-based gun violence prevention services.
That progress is made possible by the dedicated gun violence prevention team we have at the White House, working to combat gun violence—every day, from every angle. Under the leadership of Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, I coordinate the White House’s gun violence work. The solutions to gun violence are interdisciplinary, which is why we have built a multi-faceted, 12-person team of experts here in the heart of the Domestic Policy Council who have teamed up to drive forward our gun violence reduction agenda.
Chiraag Bains (Deputy Assistant to the President for Racial Justice and Equity), Vanessa Chen (Special Assistant to the President for Criminal Justice and Guns), and Stephonn Alcorn (Associate Director for Racial Justice and Equity) all bring their expertise in criminal justice reform and racial justice to help guide our work to expand community violence interventions. I work side by side with this team, along with Erin Murphy (Senior Policy Advisor for Criminal Justice), on broader issues related to public safety that often intersect with gun violence.
Vanessa leads our interagency policy council on school safety, working closely with Mo-Tracey Mooney, Special Assistant to the President for Education and the Domestic Policy Council’s expert on K-12 education.
We’re also fortunate to have Terri Tanielian (Special Assistant to the President for Veterans Affairs), who specializes in veteran issues, mental health, and suicide prevention, supporting our work on reducing access to lethal means through methods such as safe storage.
And, Pronita Gupta (Special Assistant to the President for Labor and Workers), ensures that job training and job opportunities for young adults and formerly incarcerated individuals are a core component of our comprehensive approach to reducing gun crime.
Jessica Schubel, Director for the Affordable Care Act and Health Care, contributes her expertise in utilizing Medicaid and private insurance to support violence intervention programs.
Priya Singh, Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Analyst, and Clarence Wardell, Senior Advisor for Delivery, specialize in bridging the gap between policy and people, including making sure that our investments in community violence intervention are having an impact on the ground.
Last but not least, Erin Pelton, Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Domestic Policy Council, helps shape our legislative, public engagement, and intergovernmental affairs strategies.
All of us on the Domestic Policy Council work closely with our colleagues in the White House Counsel’s Office, the Office of Public Engagement, the Office of Legislative Affairs, and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. And each of us coordinates with our counterparts in key agencies across government, from the Department of Justice to the Department of Education to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Together, we convene multi-agency meetings to coordinate on a specific goal, hold one-on-one meetings to drive the work of a particular agency, and meet with gun violence survivors and experts, as well as state and local policymakers.
The strength of this integrated approach is that it enables us to see across issue areas, and avoid the silos that too often stymie progress. When the President’s top advisors were hammering out the details of his Build Back Better Agenda, our team ensured that it included a historic $5 billion across the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services to invest in community violence intervention. When workforce training was on the agenda, we were able to work with the Department of Labor to prioritize employment for formerly incarcerated individuals to reduce recidivism. After Medicaid policy advisors at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services briefed states on how Medicaid funds could be used to reimburse CVI programs, Connecticut and Illinois became the first two states to adopt this promising approach. Policymakers often talk about taking a “whole-of-government” approach to an issue. This is what a whole-of-government effort truly looks like in practice.
Driven by President Biden’s career-long commitment to combating gun violence, and guided every day by the President’s top advisor on domestic policy, our team is able to combine a deep focus on this issue with the ability to deliver on it across the White House and the Administration as a whole. That’s how we’ve been able to carry out a comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy that’s done more through executive action than any President in their first year in history, and how we’ve backed it up with historic amounts of funding for cities and states to make their communities safer. And that’s also how we’ve continued to amplify the voices of survivors and advocates and elevate them with the President’s bully pulpit – from the halls of Congress to the Rose Garden – the vital need for Congress to act on common sense gun violence prevention measures.
As the President acknowledged in his State of the Union remarks, there is much more to do, which is why this team wakes up every day eager to advance this essential work. The President will continue to implement his comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy. Just as he did in his State of the Union Address, he will continue to call on Congress to takes steps that cannot be achieved through executive action and do not violate the Second Amendment – like universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, and repeal of the liability shield for gun manufacturers and dealers. He will continue to increase investments in community policing and community violence interventions. And we will help him get the job done in order to save lives.
Stefanie Feldman is Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the Domestic Policy Advisor