gun violence

Biden Talks Gun War in NYC as Recent Deaths of Police, Teens Fuel Crime Concerns

It comes as New York City just held funerals for two NYPD officers killed in the line of duty; they're among five to die of 32 officers shot nationwide so far this year

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What to Know

  • President Joe Biden s in NYC Thursday, where he met with Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul at NYPD headquarters to talk guns before visiting a school to meet "violence interpreters"
  • It comes as New York City just held funerals for two NYPD officers killed in the line of duty; they're among five to die of 32 officers shot nationwide so far this year
  • All this unfolds against the backdrop of recent polls showing Americans are increasingly concerned about crime and think GOP has an advantage over Democrats as party better equipped to deal with it

Running through a grim tally of recent gun deaths, President Joe Biden pledged to New Yorkers and the nation on Thursday that the federal government would step up its fight against gun violence by working more closely with police and communities to stop the surging bloodshed.

“It’s enough. Enough is enough," Biden told police, law enforcement officials and lawmakers gathered at the city's police headquarters. “We can do something about this.”

Gun violence already on the rise during the pandemic is spiking anew, and beleaguered cities are struggling with how to manage it. Biden visited one of them, New York, on Thursday as he tries to dispel criticism from the right that he hasn’t been tough enough on crime.

Biden promised NYC Mayor Eric Adams that the federal government would do what it can to help curb the rise in gun violence across the city.

"For far too long we called for back and it was not there. It is time to have that backup," Adams said.

Once an outspoken critic of his own department and someone who was beaten by police as a teenager, Adams portrayed himself during his campaign as someone who could bridge the divide between the New York Police Department and activists pushing for major change.

Adams' tough-yet-middle-ground approach is one that Biden and other moderate Democrats have sought out, especially as they try to distance themselves from calls from progressives to shift money away from police departments and into social programs.

“The answer is not to defund the police," Biden said. “It is to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors and know the community.”

Biden’s crimefighting strategy relies heavily on buy-in from state and local officials as he suggests ways to spend federal dollars and expands on initiatives already under way. The modest initiatives demonstrate the limits to what he can do when there is no appetite in Congress to pass gun legislation.

The strongest effort in recent years failed, even after 20 children and six adults were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Biden and Adams hoped their alliance would send a message to Congress that action on gun trafficking is serious.

Biden and Adams were joined by Gov. Kathy Hochul, as they spoke to district attorneys and elected officials. Hochul took a hard line as she vowed a new crackdown on illegal guns coming across state lines.

"It's going to stop right now. That is the message," she said.

President Joe Biden's visit to the New York Police Department comes as illegal guns flood the streets and shootings claims scores of lives, including those of police officers.

Biden's visit comes shortly after the sixth shooting this year of an NYPD officer.

Two men approached and shot an off-duty police officer at a Queens traffic light as he drove to work Tuesday night, police said. Wounded in the shoulder, the officer was hospitalized in stable condition Wednesday, and two men were arrested.

“Last night, we were reminded again about the danger and overproliferation of guns,” Adams, a retired police captain who took office last month, said at the funeral of Det. Wilbert Mora. “These officers, every day, put on their uniforms, pin that shield on their chest, put that bulletproof vest on and go back into the streets. They still go back and do their jobs. Now it’s time for lawmakers to do their job.”

“This has been a painful last few weeks, but the pain unites us in this moment,” he added, vowing to “build a city of peace out of the ashes of fear.”

Ahead of his visit, President Biden spoke with the families of NYPD Det. Mora and Det. Jason Rivera to express his condolences, his press secretary said. He also met with NYPD Officer Sumit Sulan, who fired the shots that ultimately killed the accused gunman.

Biden says his administration is clamping down more on traders of “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and that are often purchased without a background check. NBC New York's Myles Miller reports.

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell reminded everyone of the stakes they are facing in the battle to fight the scourge of illegal guns.

"We have seen people of our city suff. Bystanders, babies and people trying to do their job," Sewell said.

But the question of what can actually be done about the shootings dominated discussion in Queens. Borough President Donovan Richards had a seat at the table, and said his message was about reaching the people before they ever even pick up a gun.

"We also have to do a lot of work around prevention. To ensure that young people who may have been justice-involved, aren't picking up guns," Richards said.

Biden and the local leaders hosted advocates known as violence interrupters: Former gang members and formerly incarcerated individuals who are considered credible messengers on the ground.

Rob DeLeon, of the Fortune Society, was not in the meeting, but supports that approach.

"I'm formerly incarcerated myself, and when I talk to individuals, I come from a pace of having been there, done that," DeLeon said.

Biden and Adams will join Gov. Kathy Hochul at NYPD headquarters to discuss efforts to battle the scourge of illegal guns in the city and across the country. NBC New York's Adam Harding reports.

Another topic of conversation was the use of so-called "ghost guns," build-it-yourself firearms that can't be traced or tracked, and that have been showing up at crime scenes across the city. Police have said they are quickly becoming criminals weapon of choice.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said the ghost guns are driving the rise in violent crim across the city, and throughout the country.

"In 2020, 150 ghost guns were recovered by NYPD here in the city. In 2021, that number went up to 275, so that's slightly more than an 80 percent increase," said ATF Assistant Special Agent Daryl McCormick.

The bureau said that law enforcement has to use surveillance and other forensics to figure out who is firing the ghost guns, as McCormick said that all parts for the guns can be ordered, making them very hard for law enforcement to detect.

"We can't trace to figure out who the shooter might have been," he said.

At NYPD headquarters, Biden announced a federal crackdown on ghost guns.

"The department is announcing an intensified national ghost gun enforcement initiative, to deter criminals from using those weapons from covering their tracks," Biden said. "If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, not only are state and local prosecutors going to come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well."

The Department of Justice will also crack down on the so-called "Iron Pipeline" that brings illegal guns from the south up the East Coast. The DOJ will also direct U.S. Attorney's Offices to increase resources dedicated to local violent crime strategies. Biden said that the city's Gun Violence Strategic Partnership is a model of what the DOJ will help expand nationwide.

"Mayor Adams, you say that gun violence is a sea fed by many rivers. Well, I put forward a plan to dam up some of those streams. You can count on me to be a partner in that effort," President Biden said at today’s meeting. "You and I agree: The answer is not to abandon our streets — that’s not the answer. The answer is to come together, police and communities, building trust and making us all safer."

Major crimes in New York City are up 38% so far this year versus last, as a dip in murders was offset by huge increases in virtually every other key category tracked by the NYPD.

The nation's most populous city confronted a series of high-profile crimes last month, including the officers' deaths, a deadly subway shove under Times Square, a stray-bullet shooting of a baby and a deadly robbery at a fast-food restaurant.

The mother of the teen killed in that Burger King robbery hopes Biden can somehow do something about the scourge of illegal guns.

"For me, all I want is what happened to my daughter, not to happen to anyone — I want to tell the president, 'take out guns from the streets,'" Kristie Nieves said through a translator.

After hitting record lows, killings have risen in recent years to about where they were a decade ago — well below an early-1990s peak. Still, Adams has said “actual crime and the perception of crime” are creating a sense of crisis.

“It is New Yorkers against the killers, and we will not lose,” he said Wednesday, pledging to give police “the resources to fight this violence.”

One Biden administration official said NYC was chosen because it is an example of communities experiencing a spike in crime "as a result of the pandemic," but also one that has "fully deployed many strategies" that the president has outlined to try and reverse the trends.

Officials also highlighted the Biden administration's efforts to work with local governments to disrupt the flow of guns used in the crimes, like the gun that was used in the fatal shooting of two NYPD officers in Harlem.

President Joe Biden is outlining his administration’s strategy to confront surging gun violence and bloodshed in an address Thursday.

Concerns About Crime Surge in America Amid Wave of Gun Violence

All this unfolds against the backdrop of recent polls showing that Americans are increasingly concerned about crime and that Republicans have an advantage over Democrats as the party that would do a better job dealing with it.

The White House is pushing back against GOP efforts to paint Biden as soft.

“I think we all agree or should agree that violent crime is a serious problem,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “Our view is that instead of turning this into a political football, we need to be focused from the beginning of the president’s time in office on reducing crime and keeping our communities safe.”

Guns are at the center of the debate as the nation grapples with homicides that spiked nationally in 2020. At least seven 16-year-olds were killed in shootings last year in New York alone. And 32 officers have been shot on the job in 2022, five fatally, including Mora and his partner, Jason Rivera, in the last few weeks.

Americans purchased a record number of firearms in 2020. Law enforcement officers recovered historically high numbers of firearms last year and are coming across more firearms stripped of serial numbers, making them impossible to trace.

Some early data suggests that the period between when a gun was purchased and used in a crime and recovered by police has shortened, compared with earlier years.

NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst reports.

To combat this, the Biden administration is clamping down more on traders of “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and that are often purchased without a background check.

The Justice Department is also working to stop the movement of guns north along the Interstate 95 corridor from Southern states with lax gun laws. Federal prosecutors will prioritize cases of those who sell or transfer guns used in violent crime and, if Biden's budget is enacted, get specific agents dedicated to the effort.

Los Angeles and New York are among the cities with federal strike forces aimed at cracking down on gun trafficking.

Federal agents are embedded in homicide units in police departments around the country, and the U.S. Marshals Service regularly conducts fugitive sweeps to arrest people with outstanding state or federal warrants.

NBC New York's Brian Thompson reports.
Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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