Biden plans new steps to combat U.S. gun violence as violent crime climbs


By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden plans to unveil new steps to curtail U.S. gun violence on Wednesday, including measures aimed at stemming the flow of firearms used in crimes, after pledging to push for sweeping changes to firearms laws.

The actions will build on executive orders signed in April, when Biden asked the Justice Department to crack down on self-assembled "ghost guns," senior administration officials said.

Executive orders allow the president to act without waiting on Congress, where Democrats hold only a razor-thin majority and Republicans generally oppose new limits on firearms. Gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, are one of thorniest issues in American politics.

Biden also plans new steps to hold rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws, help states employ more police officers using funds approved earlier this year to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and strengthen efforts by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to stop illegal gun trafficking across states.

Homicides rose 30%, and gun assaults rose 8% in large cities in 2020, the White House said, citing a report by the Council on Criminal Justice, a non-partisan research group.

The "precipitous rise in homicides coincided with the emergence of mass protests after George Floyd was killed in late May by a police officer in Minneapolis," the report notes, adding "no simple connection exists between police violence, protests against such violence, and community violence."

Property crimes, such as burglaries and larcenies, fell significantly in 2020.

Biden will also meet on Wednesday with state leaders, mayors, a police chief and other experts to discuss ways to make communities around the country safer.

His moves come amid a growing impatience from gun-control activists that the administration has not acted more quickly to combat gun violence. Biden promised during his campaign that he would take action against gun violence on the first day of his administration but had so far only announced limited measures to deal with a problem he has called an "epidemic."

"The secondary consequences of the pandemic and the proliferation of illegal guns have led to increased violence over the past year and a half," a senior administration official said.

The U.S. Treasury Department released information Wednesday on how states and localities can use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to respond to violent crime, including by investing in community policing.

U.S. gun sales soared in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, amid social unrest over police killings of Black people and a contested presidential election. At the time, some experts warned a spike in homicides could be next.

"It's pretty clear that more guns is more death," Harvard University professor David Hemenway, director of the school’s Injury Control Research Center, which studies injury prevention, told Reuters in October.

While there is some "preliminary evidence" to support a connection between gun sales and homicides, "more research is required," the Council report notes.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Scott Malone, Michael Perry, Heather Timmons and Chizu Nomiyama)

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