US gun violence triggers Biden action to deal with acute problem

Justice department launches ‘strike forces’ to tackle flow of illegal weapons

The Biden administration is seeking to clamp down on illegal gun trafficking and combat violent crime as the US continues to see a rise in gun violence throughout the country.

Chicago reported 56 shootings last weekend, 11 of which were fatal. In Washington DC, diners outside popular restaurants on 14th street fled for cover on Thursday night as a gun fight erupted on a busy street corner, leaving two people seriously injured.

Last Saturday, a baseball game at the Nationals Park stadium in the nation’s capital was suspended after a shooting took place outside, sending fans running for cover inside the stadium.

On Thursday, attorney general Merrick Garland travelled to Chicago to meet with the Chicago Police Department and participants in a group that runs programmes to reduce gun violence.


Chicago is one of five cities targeted by the justice department for help in combatting gun violence. On Thursday, the department officially launched five “strike forces” to tackle the flow of illegal weapons and investigate suspects in violent gun crimes.

Under the programme, US attorneys in each of the five regions will work with state and local law enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to combat rising crime. The ATF – the federal agency established in 2002 to protect Americans from violent crime ad criminal possession of firearms – will also embed agents with local police forces.

"We are redoubling our efforts as ATF works with law enforcement to track the movement of illegal firearms used in violent crimes," Mr Garland said. "These strike forces enable sustained co-ordination across multiple jurisdictions to help disrupt the worst gun trafficking corridors."

Gun violence has been steadily rising over the last 18 months, a trend that some analysts link to the pandemic.

Legal gun ownership by Americans has also risen during this time. Research from the University of Chicago shows that the percentage of Americans owning at least one gun rose from 32 per cent to 39 per cent last year. Many gun owners own multiple weapons.

According to analysis by the Washington Post of data from the Gun Violence Archive, more than 8,100 people were killed by guns in the United States in the first five months of 2021, a sharp rise on previous years.

Republicans outraged

While the Biden administration is seeking to clamp down on illegal gun trafficking and the role of gangs in gun crime, resistance to any major change to gun ownership laws is still strong in the United States.

Republican senators have reacted furiously to Mr Biden's nomination of a gun control advocate, David Chipman, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, threatening to vote against him at his Senate confirmation hearing.

"David Chipman is a former anti-gun lobbyist who is unfit to lead the ATF," said Florida senator Marco Rubio.  "Violent crime is soaring in cities across the country. Rather than confront the real cause of the problem, Chipman seems more interested in punishing law-abiding gun owners."

Mr Biden faces a delicate challenge as he seeks to respond to last year's killing of George Floyd by a white policeman, while at the same time reassuring Americans that the country is safe as crime increases across the country.

At a CNN “townhall” earlier this week, the president dismissed the characterisation of him by some Republicans as anti-police, saying that he had never supported the concept of “defund the police”, which became a rallying cry for many activists in the wake of Floyd’s murder. However, he said that “police conduct” needed to be changed and police officers made subject to greater scrutiny.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent