US president Joe Biden pledged to crack down on violent crime, as he warned that the recent surge in gun violence in the United States could spike as summer approaches.
Announcing new legislation to combat gun crime following a meeting with the Attorney General Merrick Garland and civic society leaders at the White House, Mr Biden said that "there are things we know that work" to tackle violent crime, including background checks for gun purchases, a ban on assault weapons and community policing.
“These efforts work, they save lives, but overtime these policies were gutted or woefully underfunded,” he said, pledging to “supercharge the policies that work”.
Among the measures he unveiled was a clampdown on rogue gun dealers, and a new firearms trafficking “strike force” which will work across states and local jurisdictions to stop the illegal flow of firearms across state lines.
The announcement by Mr Biden comes as murders and violent crime have increased across America over the past year, with homicides up 30 per cent in some cities. The issue is emerging as a political concern, as evidenced in this week’s New York mayoral election where voters have repeatedly named public safety as one of their top concerns. Los Angeles has seen a 50 per cent increase in gun crime this year.
But Mr Biden is faced with a delicate task given the public outcry about policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer last year. During the presidential campaign Mr Biden was forced to explain his support for the 1994 Crime Bill during the Clinton administration which has since been considered to have disproportionately affected African-American men.
In a bow to the more progressive elements in his party, Mr Biden also announced a range of measures yesterday designed to stop the cycle of crime in neighbourhoods and help convicted felons reintegrate into society.
He outlined how his recent American Rescue Plan will allow local authorities to invest more in summer programmes for at-risk youths to help them keep out of crime. Similarly, he unveiled an initiative to help former incarcerated individuals to re-enter their communities and find a job.
Separately, the White House announced that vice-president Kamala Harris will visit the southwestern border on Friday during a trip to El Paso in Texas. Ms Harris, who visited Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month, has attracted criticism from Republicans for not visiting the border since her appointment as vice-president, despite being tasked by Mr Biden with dealing with migration and its root causes.
She will be accompanied by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Asked about the timing of Ms Harris's visit a few days before former president Donald Trump and several Republican members of congress visit the border next week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied there was any link. "I would say that we have no way to predict what former president Trump will say when he goes to the border," she said, adding that the White House does not believe that Ms Harris's trip "is going to prevent or change what the former president of the United States does when he goes to the border in a couple of days."
Mr Trump issued a statement shortly after the El Paso trip was announced.
“After months of ignoring the crisis at the southern border, it is great that we got Kamala Harris to finally go and see the tremendous destruction and death that they’ve created,” he said.