(WASHINGTON) — As part of his effort to get out in front of a politically sensitive issue, President Joe Biden on Monday convened a meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland, law enforcement leaders and elected officials to discuss rising crime rates across the country.
Glancing at Garland at the top of the meeting, Biden opened his remarks by acknowledging that he’s been trying to solve this problem for many years.
“We’ve been at this a long time, a long time. Seems like most of my career I’ve been dealing with this issue. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, we know there are some things that work. And the first of those that work is stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes,” Biden said.
“It includes cracking down on holding rogue gun dealers accountable for violating the federal law. It includes the Justice Department creating five new strike forces to crack down on illegal gun trafficking,” Biden said, without directly acknowledging more meaningful gun control is impossible without getting Senate Republicans to go along.
While Biden said he’d be asking the experts he assembled what else they believe should be done on the federal level to address rising crime rates, he did not directly address Congress or put any pressure on lawmakers to act on a national level.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the meeting at an earlier press briefing and said the group will discuss Biden’s “comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and violent crime.”
Biden’s plan, unveiled last month, targets law-breaking gun dealers, provides federal resources to police departments for gun-crime enforcement and allows communities to repurpose millions of dollars of federal coronavirus relief funding for programs proven to prevent gun violence.
“During the meeting, the president will discuss his crime reduction strategy — strategy which gives cities and states historic funding through the American Rescue Plan, and a range of tools they can use to improve public safety in their communities including support for community violence intervention programs, summer employment opportunities and other proven methods to reduce crime,” Psaki said.
“I’ll underscore his commitment to ensuring their state and law and local law enforcement have the resources and support they need to hire more police officers and invest in effective and accountable community policing,” Psaki said.
Notably, Biden has not taken the same stance as some progressives who’ve called to “defund the police,” a position that gained traction last year during what many deemed to be a racial reckoning in the country.
Still, Republicans have attacked Biden for being “soft on crime.”
Psaki said Biden is stressing partnerships with local leaders on the effort. Attendees at the White House included Washington Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who just won New York’s City Democratic mayoral primary. Unlike other progressive candidates, Adams did not run on a “defund the police” agenda but instead cited “public safety” as his top priority for the city and Democrats in general.
“This president is making it clear,” Adams said following the meeting, “he’s going to redefine the ecosystem of public safety, and that includes identifying the role of police, schools, families, resources, employment.”
“Why did it take so long before we heard the gunshots that families were listening and hearing every night? Other communities are waking up the alarm clock, communities of Black, brown and poor people are waking up to gunshots and this president says this is not the America we’re going to live in,” he continued.
Police chiefs, including David Brown, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, along with a community-based violence intervention expert, also attended the White House meeting.
Psaki said the group would talk about what the federal government is doing to stem the flow of guns used in crimes, “including the administration’s zero-tolerance policy for dealers who willfully sell guns illegally, the Department of Justice’s gun trafficking strike forces, as well as previous steps the White House has announced like cracking down on ghost guns, which are increasingly used in violent crimes.”
Biden’s session comes as the country faces a rise in violent crime, particularly in those involving firearms.
According to a study released earlier this year by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, homicides spiked by 30% in 2020 compared to the year before.
And in the first three months of 2021, the number of homicides increased by 24% compared to the same period in 2020 and by 49% compared to the start of 2019, the researchers said.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.
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