As Prepared For Delivery:
Good morning, everybody. Thank you to Michael [Dowling] and Northwell Health for convening this important Forum. I want to begin by noting that yesterday marked nine years since the sickening rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Nine years since a gunman stole 26 precious lives. Those kindergarteners should be 10th graders today. Those teachers should be putting up holiday decorations. It’s heart wrenching. And, I want all those who lost loved ones to know that you are forever in our hearts.
At the same time, this Forum recognizes the countless acts of gun violence that don’t often make the nightly news. The drive-by shootings. The abusive spouse with a loaded weapon and too much to drink. The 5-year-old who finds his dad’s gun. The young people who die by suicide. For every Sandy Hook, there are too many street corners. For every Parkland, there’s a liquor store. A park. A church or synagogue. A bedroom. And, when the sirens fade away, they leave behind families ripped apart and communities traumatized. Community violence in particular disproportionately affects Black and brown communities. We simply cannot continue like this.
I’m gratified that so many health leaders have joined us today, from surgeons to trauma specialists to Chief Medical Officers. Because, as President Biden has often said—as those here know all too well—this is not just a gun crisis. It is a public health crisis.
Just ask the third-year medical student in the trauma bay at Temple University, who remembers bullet holes, bloody shoeprints, and blue jeans that were no longer blue. Ask the surgical fellow awash in COVID patients who pleaded, “Please, stop shooting. We need the beds.” Guns kill more young Americans than cancer or car crashes. Among young people and Black men under 45, firearms are the leading cause of death.
So, even as the Biden-Harris Administration focuses relentlessly on defeating COVID and building back better, addressing the epidemic of gun violence remains a critical priority at the highest levels of our government. As the President’s Domestic Policy Advisor, I have the privilege of driving the development and implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda. That includes taking every possible step to rein in the scourge of gun violence.
That’s why, in April, the President announced a series of actions to reduce gun violence that the Justice Department is implementing. Curbing the proliferation of ghost guns. Better regulating the stabilizing braces that turn pistols into assault rifles. Encouraging states to adopt red flag laws. Investing in proven community violence interventions, from improving neighborhood lighting to addressing substance use.
In June, President Biden followed up with a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crime and promote public safety. The Justice Department is now taking a zero-tolerance approach towards rogue gun dealers, and launched strike forces targeting five major gun trafficking corridors. We’re supporting law enforcement with a range of tools and resources to help address gun crime, encouraging them to use some of the $350 billion in American Rescue Plan funding on everything from hiring more police officers, to expanding mental health services, to community violence intervention.
And, just last month, the President announced additional actions to promote safe storage and reduce suicide and family violence by firearm.
As President Biden continues to act through his own executive authority, he will continue demanding that the Senate do its job. There are two bills to reduce gun violence stuck in the Senate right now. One would require background checks for all gun sales. Another would keep guns out of the hands of more abusers. Then there’s the President’s transformative Build Back Better legislation, which would invest $5 billion in evidence-based community violence interventions—the largest investment in gun violence prevention in history. We also continue to call on Congress to double funding for the CDC and NIH to conduct gun violence prevention research, just as it conducts research on other public health challenges.
Build Back Better is proof that we’re not just calling gun violence a public health crisis, we’re treating it like one. We’ve ensured that the bill’s $5 billion CVI funding is split equally between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s $2.5 billion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be able to direct specifically towards programs like hospital-based violence intervention and trauma-informed mental health care.
As many of you know firsthand, these programs work. Community violence intervention has been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60 percent. In one San Francisco study, engaging with patients recovering from gun injuries while they were in the hospital reduced the rate at which those patients were reinjured by nearly 50 percent. That’s why we’re helping states like Connecticut and Illinois devote Medicaid resources to violence intervention programs. Here in Washington, D.C., I’ve seen up close how violence intervention is helping to strengthen communities and save lives. And, I’ve been inspired by the work our new CVI Collaborative has been doing in 16 jurisdictions—from Baton Rouge to Baltimore—to build trust, engage communities, and share innovative strategies that can be scaled nationwide.
When it comes to preventing gun violence, I’m proud that the Biden-Harris Administration is taking action in a big way. And, I hope all of you will continue to do your part as well. We need you to collect and analyze the data. We need you to invest in proven strategies that reduce gun violence. We need you to integrate firearm safety into your medical care. Northwell’s own Chethan Sathya and Sandeep Kapoor put it earlier this year, “Doctors, Talk to Your Patients about Guns.”
Many of you have devoted your lives to saving your fellow Americans’ lives. Preventing gun violence is one of the most important and impactful ways to uphold that commitment. And, President Biden and the entire Biden-Harris Administration stand proudly as your partners in this urgent and lifesaving work. Thank you very much.