VP Harris to Lead Gun Violence Office 09/22 06:39
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden has asked Vice President Kamala
Harris to lead the first-ever federal office of gun violence prevention, which
will seek to find ways around congressional inaction to stem rising violence.
Harris, a former prosecutor and state attorney general, has years of
experience on the issue and was the natural fit to lead the effort, White House
officials said. Adding the new office to her portfolio means Harris is tasked
with some of the highest-profile domestic issues -- including voting rights and
abortion, as well as the increase in migration to the U.S. But they're also
among the most fraught, difficult to solve and hard for Democrats to make
headway on in Congress.
"Throughout her career, the vice president has worked tirelessly to protect
people from gun violence," said Kristine Lucius, a domestic policy aide to
Harris. "The vice president feels the urgency of this issue from every family
she's grieved with and from students across the country who are fighting for
their right to be saved from gun violence."
The office fulfills a key demand of gun safety activists who banded together
as a coalition to endorse Biden for president in 2024, and is an effort by the
White House to keep the issue front-and-center as Biden pushes for a ban on
so-called "assault weapons" and works to mobilize voters critical to his
reelection strategy -- suburban women, voters of color and younger voters.
Overall, stricter gun laws are desired by a majority of Americans,
regardless of what the current gun laws are in their state. That desire could
be tied to some Americans' perceived impact of what fewer guns could mean for
the country -- namely, fewer mass shootings.
As of Wednesday, there have been at least 35 mass killings in the U.S. so
far in 2023, leaving at least 171 people dead, not including shooters who died,
according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in
partnership with Northeastern University.
The president "hears young people all around the country demanding a world
in which they do not have to live in fear of gun violence," said Stefanie
Feldman, the director of the newly-created office. "The president hears them,
he agrees with them, and he is acting."
Biden was expected to announce the new office during a Rose Garden event on
Friday that would be attended by law enforcement, advocacy groups and the
families and survivors of mass shootings.
Greg Jackson, the executive director of the Community Justice Action Fund,
and Everytown for Gun Safety's Rob Wilcox will also hold roles in the office.
Among its first directives will be to ensure a federal gun safety law passed
last year is being fully implemented. The bipartisan law, the first in decades,
was passed following a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed
19 students and two teachers.
The 2022 law toughened background checks for the youngest gun buyers, sought
to keep firearms from domestic violence offenders and aimed to help states put
in place red flag laws that make it easier to take weapons away from people
judged to be dangerous.
Stepped-up FBI background checks have blocked hundreds of transactions of
attempted purchasers under the age of 21. Prosecutions have increased for
unlicensed gun sellers, and new gun trafficking penalties have been charged in
more than 100 cases around the country. Prosecutions for those who sell
firearms without a license have doubled.
But there is more to be done, White House officials said. The office will
also seek to find ways to stop increasing violence nationwide without any
additional action from Congress. Republican support for gun restrictions has
slipped in the year since the law was enacted, according to a recent poll from
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.