President Biden lays out plan to curb surge in US violent crimes

Biden (above) was to announce further details following a meeting with civil and law enforcement leaders.
Biden (above) was to announce further details following a meeting with civil and law enforcement leaders.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President Joe Biden unveiled new measures on Wednesday (June 23) to tackle gun violence against a backdrop of surging crime that his Republican rivals have seized on for weeks.

With major American cities seeing alarming spikes in shootings, homicides and armed robberies, the White House unveiled its strategy to combat violent crime, particularly efforts to reverse what it described as "an epidemic of gun violence in this country."

Biden was to announce further details of the strategy during a televised address following a meeting with civil and law enforcement leaders.

The president is expected to point to what his administration has acknowledged is a violent crime spike - homicides in the first quarter of 2021 were up 24 per cent over the same period last year, it said - as justification for his push for stricter gun laws.

His plan addresses five main elements, including the need to "stem the flow of firearms used to commit violence."

It also enables state and local jurisdictions to use unspent portions of the Covid-19 recovery funds to pay for new police hires, upgrades in equipment and expanded efforts to prosecute gun traffickers.

Biden announced that the administration would collaborate with 15 cities that are committing to use some leftover pandemic funding - including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore and the capital Washington - in anticipation of potential spikes in violent crime in the summer months.

Many Democrats have sought for years to pass tougher gun control measures. But the efforts have repeatedly failed since the 2012 shooting at a Connecticut elementary school where 26 people died, with Republicans often uniting in opposition to such legislation.

The House of Representatives passed two bills in March aimed at enhancing background checks and closing a loophole related to a deadly 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

But they are unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to vote with them to reach the 60 votes necessary to advance the legislation.

'Numbers don't lie'

Republicans, keen to make violent crime a campaign issue in next year's midterm elections as they seek to win back the House and Senate, are highlighting how crime has skyrocketed in Biden's America.

"Numbers don't lie. This is their crime crisis," number three House Republican Elise Stefanik tweeted on Wednesday, adding that Biden policies have contributed to a 64 per cent rise in shootings in New York City this year compared to the same period last year.

Congressman Richard Hudson repeated a theme that has gained traction among conservatives: that progressive calls to defund the police have led to a "dangerous rise in crime."

"President Biden's answer: Propose even more gun control measures today that only harm law-abiding citizens," Hudson tweeted. "Instead of gun control, we need to support our good police officers and end this #BidenCrimeCrisis."

With Congress unable to agree on broad new gun regulations, Biden took action in April, signing six executive orders including a measure to stop the proliferation of "ghost guns" - homemade firearms built from home kits.

He also swiftly nominated a gun control proponent and former law enforcement officer, David Chipman, to be the next head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a Senate-confirmed director since 2015.

The Senate has yet to hold a confirmation vote on the Chipman nomination.