News & Commentary

Biden establishes first White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

People in New York City protest gun violence as they cross the Brooklyn Bridge during the "March for Our Lives" rally June 11, 2022. (CNS photo/Eric Cox, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — President Joe Biden is establishing the first White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention and has named Vice President Kamala Harris to oversee it, the White House announced.

The White House said the new office will focus on implementing existing legislation and possible executive action, including historic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed by Biden, “to end the scourge of gun violence in America.”

In a statement, Biden said, “Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something.'”

“It’s why, last year, I signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to keep guns out of dangerous hands, and have taken more executive action than any President in history to keep communities safe,” Biden said. “But as I’ve said before — while these are important steps, they are just the first steps toward what is needed.”

Mass shooting events in the United States have become more common in recent years. In May 2022 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a gunman armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle killed 19 children and two teachers. In response to the Uvalde massacre, Congress passed a modest gun safety bill — the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — that expanded the background check system for prospective gun buyers under 21 years old, closed a provision known as the “boyfriend loophole,” banning domestic abusers from purchasing firearms regardless of their marital status, and funded new investments in mental health resources.

Biden has touted that legislation, but also has called for Congress to pass additional measures, including a ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols fed by ammunition magazines of various capacities — commonly called an “assault weapons ban” — and universal background check legislation. Either measure faces unlikely odds in a divided Congress, where Republicans hold a narrow majority in the House and where Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate and would have to overcome a potential filibuster.

Biden said he will “continue to urge Congress to take commonsense actions that the majority of Americans support like enacting universal background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But in the absence of that sorely-needed action, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention along with the rest of my Administration will continue to do everything it can to combat the epidemic of gun violence that is tearing our families, our communities, and our country apart.”

Harris will oversee the office, the statement said, and it will include Stefanie Feldman, a longtime policy adviser to Biden on gun violence prevention, who will serve as director of the office, and gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox as deputy directors.

In a statement, Harris said, “Every person and every child deserves the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and live up to their God-given potential.”

“Every family, in every community, should have the freedom to live and to thrive. We know true freedom is not possible if people are not safe,” she said. “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

Harris said the new office would “play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law, while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” she said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a total ban on assault weapons, similar to the 1994 ban that Congress allowed to lapse in 2004. These semiautomatic weapons allow a shooter to maintain a steady rate of fire limited by the need to reload once the magazine is depleted.

The bishops also support limitations on civilian access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. The 1994 crime bill banned ownership of magazines with capacity for more than 10 rounds.

A March 27 Washington Post demonstration showed how a shooter with a semiautomatic weapon could discharge a fully loaded 100-round magazine at a steady rate within 30 seconds. A shooter with a 10-round magazine could discharge 30 rounds within the same timeframe, with magazine changes taking 7-8 seconds, before the shooter resumed firing.

Other gun regulation measures the bishops support include universal background checks for all gun purchases.

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News