After four long years, and at a time Philadelphia needs it most, there is an occupant in the White House who understands the value of gun control.
Last week, the White House announced initial actions the administration is taking to address gun violence. Unable to impose gun control requirements through executive action, the White House instructed the Department of Justice to draft a model “red flag” law for states to use and craft a federal law enforcement response to the proliferation of “ghost guns.” The plan calls for $5 billion toward a violence interruption program. President Joe Biden also nominated David Chipman, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who most recently was a senior adviser for the gun control group Giffords, to head the ATF — an agency that didn’t have a confirmed director since 2015. Biden has also directed the ATF to issue an annual report on gun trafficking.
On Thursday, Biden called gun violence an “epidemic” and “international embarrassment” at a Rose Garden press conference where he discussed his administration’s action.
Also last week, more than a dozen of Philadelphia’s top federal law enforcement officers announced a new initiative to address gun violence. At a Thursday press conference alongside Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that each one of the federal agencies will do more to support the work of the city’s police: FBI is adding more agents and intelligence analysts to investigate violence, ATF will support the Philadelphia Police Department’s forensic laboratory and will track down more leads, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will prosecute more gun cases.
The focused collaboration among law enforcement agencies, local and federal, is a welcome development.
Just a few weeks ago, a leaked police memo showed a district captain instructing his officers to conduct more car stops and to issue more code-violation notices. Hopefully, the spirit of the new collaboration and focus on gun violence will trickle down through the department and more resources will be dedicated toward gun violence, and not minor traffic stops.
The new tone from the White House and federal agencies gives hope, but the announcements also revealed the limits of executive action. Through his pen, Biden can tinker around the edges when it comes to actually regulating guns. The president called on Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act, ban assault weapons, and close background check loopholes. With 60 votes required to break a filibuster in the Senate, it’s hard to imagine 10 Republicans letting any of these measures pass.
Republican obstructionism doesn’t stop in D.C. Bill after bill to reduce the number of guns on Pennsylvania’s streets, and out of the hands of individuals who are a danger to themselves or others, are introduced in Harrisburg, only to languish in Republican-led committees. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s background check system experienced record volume for the third consecutive quarter: 427,450 checks before purchase, more than 100,000 more than the first quarter of 2020. The commonwealth is drowning in guns.
Gun violence is indeed an international embarrassment and a national tragedy. There is finally national leadership to promote change — but Congress and the statehouse must act.