Gun violence already on the rise during the pandemic is spiking anew, and beleaguered cities are struggling with how to manage it. President Joe Biden visits one of them, New York, on Thursday as he tries to dispel criticism from the right that he hasn’t been tough enough on crime.
Biden will showcase federal, state and local efforts to get guns and repeat shooters off the streets. But there are limits to what the president can do when there is no appetite in Congress to pass gun legislation. The strongest effort in recent years failed, even after 20 children and six adults were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Biden also is trying to navigate the complex politics of the moment: finding ways to combat crime while also pushing for greater accountability after killings of Black people by police. The two efforts do not have to be at odds, though they are often billed that way.
All this unfolds against the backdrop of recent polls showing that Americans are increasingly concerned about crime, and that Republicans have an advantage over Democrats as the party that would do a better job dealing with it. The White House is pushing back against GOP efforts to paint Biden as soft.
“I think we all agree or should agree that violent crime is a serious problem,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “Our view is that instead of turning this into a political football, we need to be focused from the beginning of the president’s time in office on reducing crime and keeping our communities safe.”
Guns are at the center of the debate as the nation grapples with homicides that spiked nationally in 2020. At least seven 16-year-old kids were killed in shootings last year in New York alone. And 32 officers have been shot on the job so far in 2022, five fatally. Two died in New York in two weeks and two campus police were killed in Virginia on Tuesday.
Americans purchased a record number of firearms in 2020. Law enforcement officers recovered historically high numbers of firearms last year and are coming across more firearms stripped of serial numbers, making them impossible to trace.
Some early data suggests that the period between when a gun was purchased and used in a crime and recovered by police has shortened, compared with earlier years