2021 Wrap-Up: Highlights From The Biden Administration’s Historic Efforts To Reduce Gun Violence
During President Biden’s first year in office, the Biden-Harris Administration has made more progress on executive actions to reduce gun violence than any other Administration has in its first year. The President is using the tools at his disposal to address the epidemic of gun violence that our country has faced for far too long – including stepped up law enforcement efforts, cracking down on ghost guns, and directing historic levels of funding to put more cops on the beat for community-oriented policing and expanding community violence interventions (CVI) – neighborhood-based programs proven to combat gun violence. While the President is using his existing authority to deliver meaningful action on gun violence, he continues to insist that Congress must act, and for Republicans in the Senate to stop blocking commonsense legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and weapons of war off our streets.
Since taking office, President Biden has announced three packages of executive actions – an initial set of actions during a Rose Garden address in April, a comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy, and steps to promote safe storage of firearms. These executive actions represent a whole-of-government approach, mobilizing the Departments of Justice, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Labor, Homeland Security, Education, and Housing and Urban Development toward the shared goal of reducing gun violence. Highlights of these actions include three significant Justice Department rulemakings, agency guidance encouraging the use of hundreds of billions of American Rescue Plan dollars for gun violence reduction, and historic progress to advance community violence interventions. The Justice Department also launched a comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy in May of this year, and federal prosecutors in all 94 federal judicial districts are working with law enforcement to deploy effective enforcement strategies to address the most significant drivers of crime in their districts, while also increasing engagement with communities to support prevention and intervention strategies and improve trust in law enforcement.
In addition, the President’s Build Back Better Act includes a transformational $5 billion for community violence interventions – evidence-based strategies to reduce community gun violence disproportionately impacting Black and brown individuals.
Survivors of gun violence – including individuals with physical and emotional wounds from surviving a shooting, and family members of victims and survivors – have inspired and been key advisors in developing the Biden Administration’s first year gun violence reduction initiatives. The President was honored to invite survivors to his April Rose Garden address. When he hosted two roundtable discussions about reducing gun crime this summer, the President included individuals directly impacted by gun violence. Additionally, senior White House staff and Cabinet officials have regularly met with survivors, including hosting listening sessions with survivors of the Pulse Nightclub, Parkland, and El Paso mass shootings and survivors of community violence.
In the year ahead, the Biden Administration will continue to engage directly with survivors, use its existing authority to reduce gun violence, and press Congress to pass long-overdue, commonsense gun legislation. Progress to-date includes:
KEEPING ESPECIALLY DANGEROUS WEAPONS OFF OUR STREETS
Reining in the proliferation of ghost guns. On May 21, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” which are unserialized, privately made firearms that are increasingly being recovered at crime scenes and have been identified by law enforcement officials as a serious threat to public safety. Today, criminals are buying kits containing nearly all of the components and directions for finishing a firearm within as little as 30 minutes and using these firearms to commit crimes. When these firearms turn up at crime scenes, they often cannot be traced by law enforcement due to the lack of a serial number – making it harder to catch the criminals behind shootings. ATF is reviewing public comments in response to the proposed rule, the next step in the regulatory process.
Better regulating devices marketed as stabilizing braces. On June 10, ATF issued a proposed rule to better regulate when devices marketed as firearm stabilizing braces effectively turn pistols into short-barreled rifles subject to the National Firearms Act. These braces can make a firearm more stable and accurate while still being concealable. ATF is reviewing public comments in response to the proposed rule, the next step in the regulatory process.
KEEPING GUNS OUT OF THE WRONG HANDS
Helping states enact model extreme risk protection order (“red flag”) legislation. On June 7, the Justice Department published model extreme risk protection order legislation to make it easier for states that want to adopt these red flag laws to do so. These laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.
Making progress on a report to give policymakers the information they need to help address firearms trafficking. In April 2021, the Justice Department announced that it will issue a new, comprehensive report on firearms commerce and trafficking and annual updates necessary to give policymakers the information they need to help address firearms trafficking today. To ensure the report is rigorous and helpful for policymakers, ATF has assembled a group of accomplished researchers and law enforcement subject matter experts. The academic team is currently undertaking such work as an independent analysis of ATF firearms commerce data to ensure accurate research that informs key policy findings and recommendations, and an analysis of technological developments over the past twenty years, including the use of polymers for the modular manufacture of firearms, the evolution of 3D printing of firearm components, and the pervasive availability of kits on the commercial market, facilitating the assembly of privately made firearms.
Established zero tolerance for rogue gun dealers that willfully violate the law. In June, the Justice Department announced a new policy to underscore zero tolerance for willful violations of the law by federally licensed firearms dealers that put public safety at risk. Absent extraordinary circumstances that would need to be justified to the Director, ATF will seek to revoke the licenses of dealers the first time that they violate federal law by willfully 1) transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, 2) failing to run a required background check, 3) falsifying records, such as a firearms transaction form, 4) failing to respond to an ATF tracing request, or 5) refusing to permit ATF to conduct an inspection in violation of the law.
Launched multijurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces. In July, the Justice Department launched five new law enforcement strike forces focused on addressing significant firearms trafficking corridors that have diverted guns to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. Those strike forces have already opened more than 350 investigations and taken custody of almost 2,000 crime guns.
Launched a public education campaign to encourage firearm safe storage. In September, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched a new paid media campaign featuring a series of public service announcements to reinforce the key message that a simple gun lock can save lives. These PSAs appeared across multiple platforms, including TV, social media, and streaming services. The campaign also targeted specific venues and events and involved a diverse array of channels, yielding more than 1.8 billion impressions across all platforms in less than 3 months. Viewers were directed to KeepItSecure.net for additional resources. This campaign will continue through 2022.
Launched an unprecedented focus on improving lethal means safety in the Military and Veteran Suicide Prevention Strategy.
In November, the Departments of Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as the Office of Emergency Medical Services within the Department of Transportation (DOT), announced that they will jointly create a plan for addressing lethal means safety awareness, education, training, and program evaluation. This coordinated campaign will build upon the VA launch in September and encourage safer storage practices, safety planning, and time and space behavioral measures for crisis response.
Making it easier for customers to obtain secure gun storage or safety devices. In 2016, ATF proposed a rule clarifying firearms dealers’ statutory obligations to make available for purchase compatible secure gun storage or safety devices. The Department of Justice is finalizing a rule on this topic, including responding to public comments. Additionally, ATF will issue a best practices guide to all federal firearms dealers to reiterate the important steps they are legally required to take, and additional steps they are encouraged to take, to keep their customers and communities safe. The guide includes materials for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to distribute to customers to help them better understand their legal obligations as firearms owners, as well as practical steps they can take to facilitate the safe storage of firearms and keep firearms out of the hands of people prohibited from possessing firearms.
MAKING ADDITIONAL PROGRESS TO REDUCE COMMUNITY VIOLENCE
Many actions listed above will directly reduce community violence disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities. The Administration has also taken a number of steps focused solely on advancing community violence interventions, proven strategies for reducing gun violence in urban communities. As part of his Build Back Better agenda, President Biden proposed $5 billion in funding for the Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to invest in community violence interventions, evidence-based programs that are shown to help reduce violent crime. The House-passed Build Back Better Act includes this $5 billion and the Administration is calling on the Senate to pass the law, too. When enacted, this funding will provide unprecedented resources to establish and scale up evidence-based CVI programs across the country.
But this Administration isn’t waiting on Congress to act; we have already invested in and expanded community violence interventions. These actions include:
Investing historic levels of existing federal funding in community violence interventions, including American Rescue Plan funding.
The Biden Administration made certain American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding – $350 billion in state and local funding, and $122 billion in K-12 funding – available as unprecedented resources for CVI. Senior White House advisors also issued a memo to state and local officials outlining how these elected leaders not only can – but should – use ARP funds for CVI. Cities across the country, such as Seattle, Washington; Buffalo, New York; and Atlanta, Georgia – have responded to this call by committing and deploying ARP funds for CVI. In addition, five federal agencies made changes to 26 different programs to direct vital support to community violence intervention programs as quickly as possible. For example, the National Institutes of Health announced funding through its Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Research grants for four community violence programs – including a place-based strategy involving repurposing vacant lots in Detroit, an evaluation of READI Chicago, a burnout prevention program for violence interrupters in Chicago, and a hospital-based violence intervention program focused on youth in Virginia. The Justice Department announced $187 million for states and $85 million for localities through the Byrne JAG Program to support coordinated violence prevention and intervention; the Department explicitly encouraged the use of these funds for CVI. In September, the Department of Housing and Urban Development published a guide explaining to localities how Community Development Block Grants–a $3.4 billion annual funding stream–can be used to fund CVI strategies. The Department of Education released a letter to state school associations on how 21st Century Learning Centers funds and Student Support and Academic enrichment programs – both billion-dollar formula grant funding streams – can be used to fund CVI strategies in schools.
Making progress on state legislation to allow Medicaid to support community violence interventions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hosted a webinar and published information to educate states on how they can use Medicaid to reimburse certain community violence intervention programs, like Hospital-Based Violence Interventions. This year, Connecticut and Illinois enacted legislation that allows Medicaid to reimburse providers for hospital-based violence prevention services – the first two states in the country to pursue this approach. According to reporting by USA Today, “[t]he idea has been in the works for years, advocates say, but not until the Biden administration signaled that states could – and should – use Medicaid dollars to support these violence prevention programs have state lawmakers stepped up.”
Using the White House’s convening power to support community violence interventions. In July, senior White House staff established The White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative, a 16-jurisdiction cohort of mayors, law enforcement, CVI experts, and philanthropic leaders committed to using American Rescue Plan funding or other public funding to increase investment in their community violence intervention infrastructure. The Collaborative is spending 18 months strengthening and scaling the jurisdictions’ community violence intervention infrastructure to reduce gun crime and promote public safety. National experts and federal agencies are providing training and technical assistance to help communities assess their existing public safety ecosystem, identify gaps, and build the capacity to expand programming that saves lives. White House staff continue to regularly work with The Collaborative, including a second convening with senior staff in October.
PROVIDING LAW ENFORCEMENT WITH THE TOOLS AND RESOURCES THEY NEED TO REDUCE GUN VIOLENCE
Deploying federal law enforcement to support local communities in addressing gun violence. As part of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime, the Justice Department has supported law enforcement in local communities in addressing gun violence. In particular, the Justice Department has provided enforcement support from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), ATF, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and United States Marshals Service (USMS). This year, the USMS has partnered with over 1,700 state and local agencies through district and regional task forces, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day, some 600 of those partners participated in a USMS targeted initiative resulting in the apprehension of more than 3,700 fugitives, including more than 1,700 wanted for murder, in addition to seizing more than 2,200 illegal firearms and nearly $10 million connected to illegal activity. ATF has embedded with homicide and shooting investigation units in police and sheriff’s departments in more than 60 communities across the country, and expanded the reach of its National NIBIN Correlation and Training Center to an additional 35 sites. ATF now provides ballistic matching services and generates leads for more than 1,400 local police departments nationwide. FBI has partnered with nearly 2,000 state and local officers as part of its Violent Crime Task Forces and Safe Streets Task Forces, which together have confiscated more than 5,000 illegal firearms this year. Finally, DEA has strong partnerships with state and local law enforcement – 4,600 of whom serve as DEA task force officers disrupting the activity of some of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the country. So far in 2021, DEA has been involved in the seizure of over 8,700 crime guns and has opened 912 investigations with a nexus to violent crime.
Investing American Rescue Plan funding in community-oriented policing to reduce gun violence. The Biden Administration made historic levels of funding from the American Rescue Plan – $350 billion in state and local funding – available for law enforcement purposes such as hiring law enforcement or paying overtime where the funds are directly focused on advancing community policing strategies in those communities experiencing an increase in gun violence associated with the pandemic. Funds were also made available for additional enforcement efforts to reduce gun violence exacerbated by the pandemic, including prosecuting gun traffickers, rogue dealers, and other parties contributing to the supply of crime guns, as well as collaborative federal/state/local efforts to identify and address gun trafficking channels. Cities across the country, such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Syracuse, New York; and Mobile, Alabama, have responded to this call by committing and deploying ARP funds for advancing community-oriented policing. In addition, the Department of Justice continues to further the Administration’s support of community-oriented policing, including through the announcement last month of $139 million in grants to local law enforcement that will put over 1,000 police officers on the beat through the COPS Program. President Biden was instrumental in that program’s creation and has called for it to be doubled in size in his FY22 budget request.
Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of Domestic Abusers. This year, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women(OVW) expanded the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Firearms Technical Assistance Project (FTAP) to provide funding directly to those communities that participated in FTAP in the past, as well as choosing new communities to receive funding and technical assistance. FTAP helps communities identify challenges limiting a more robust implementation of domestic violence firearms laws in their jurisdictions and assists them in establishing a localized response that is best suited to their communities’ unique needs and characteristics. OVW will award an estimated $6 million for up to 12 sites and $4 million for training and technical assistance on firearms and domestic violence.
ADDRESSING THE ROOT CAUSES OF GUN VIOLENCE
Investing American Rescue Plan funding in public safety strategies such as summer jobs for young adults and substance abuse and mental health services. The Biden Administration has made historic levels of funding from the American Rescue Plan – $350 billion in state and local funding and $122 billion in school funding – available for purposes such as hiring nurses, counselors, and social workers; providing court personnel and operations costs to return to pre-pandemic operation levels; providing and expanding employment services, including summer jobs for young people and programs that provide training and work experience for formerly incarcerated persons and other individuals who live in communities most impacted by high levels of violence; providing and expanding summer education and enrichment programs, including summer camp; and scaling up wraparound services, such as housing, medical and mental health care, trauma-informed care, substance use disorder treatment, food assistance, and job placement services, for victims of crime, young people, formerly incarcerated persons, and individuals and households facing economic insecurity due to the pandemic. Cities and counties across the country, including St. Louis, Missouri; Tucson, Arizona; and Los Angeles County, California, have responded to this call by committing and deploying ARP funds for these purposes.
Providing meaningful work, education, or enrichment to keep young people safe and give them a path to success. For example, on June 10, the Department of Labor awarded $89 million through its YouthBuild program to provide pre-apprenticeship opportunities for young people ages 16-24. The Department of Labor also awarded $20 million through its Workforce Pathways for Youth program to expand workforce development activities that serve youth ages 14-21 during “out of school” time (non-school hours).
Helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities. Individuals who secure employment after release have much lower recidivism rates than those who do not. Good, stable jobs for the formerly incarcerated promote public safety and reduce violence. That is why the Administration is taking concrete steps to facilitate employment and associated services, such as housing assistance, for people who are formerly incarcerated. For example, on June 21 the Department of Labor awarded $85.5 million to help formerly incarcerated adults and young people in 28 communities transition out of the criminal justice system and connect with quality jobs. The Department also awarded $25.5 million in Young Adult Reentry Partnership grants to organizations that will help provide education and training services to young adults between 18-24 who were previously involved with the justice system or who left high school before graduation. In addition, the President’s House-passed Build Back Better Act includes $1.5 billion for grants to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities.
Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence: Research shows that a male abusers’ access to a firearm increases the risk of intimate partner femicide by 1,000%. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis have increased the rates and risk for domestic violence nationwide. For many women and children who experience abuse, home is not a safe place and there were increased barriers to accessing services and support. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program awarded nearly $1 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) supplemental funding to support services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children.
CONTINUED TO DEMAND COMMONSENSE GUN LEGISLATION AND FUNDING NEEDED TO ADDRESS THE GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC
The President has repeatedly pressed Congress to pass commonsense gun legislation, including during his first Joint Address to Congress (which takes place instead of a State of the Union address during a President’s first term in office). The President has repeatedly urged the Senate to enact three House-passed bills: Build Back Better, including its $5 billion for community violence interventions; a bill to help keep guns out of the hands of more dangerous domestic abusers; and a bill requiring background checks for all gun sales. In addition, the President has repeatedly called for Congress to pass legislation including but not limited to a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines; an appropriate national “red flag” law, as well as legislation incentivizing states to pass their own versions of these laws; and repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gives gun dealers and manufacturers special immunity from certain liability for their products.
The President also continues to urge Congress to appropriate the funding we need to reduce gun violence. His Fiscal Year 2022 budget request includes a $300 million increase for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring program to advance community policing and give police the resources they need to keep their communities safe; enough additional funding to allow ATF to add industry operations inspectors in every field division around the country; and a doubling of the funding for funding for firearm violence prevention research at CDC and the National Institutes of Health.