President Biden on Wednesday will unveil a “zero tolerance” policy for “rogue” gun dealers accused of violating rules as his administration blames a national crimewave on guns and the COVID-19 pandemic rather than big-city pushes to defund the police and increased tolerance for lawlessness following nationwide police brutality protests.
The zero tolerance policy will be enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — which may soon be led by David Chipman, an anti-gun activist who gun rights groups are seeking to block from Senate confirmation.
The policy could have a significant impact on federally licensed gun dealers. In fiscal 2020, for example, the ATF performed nearly 6,000 inspections of licensees and found violations in about 44 percent of cases, though most received warnings or no penalty and just 136 of 2,550 violators lost their licenses.
Biden will announce the policy during a Wednesday speech addressing the surge in murders, shootings and certain other forms of violent crime, such as carjackings. The speech will also underscore that localities can use COVID-19 relief funds approved in March “to hire more officers” for police forces, a senior White House official said.
The zero tolerance policy for dealers means that “absent extraordinary circumstances that would need to be justified to the director, ATF will seek to revoke the licenses of dealers that first time that they violate federal law,” a White House official said.
“This will be a historic policy that will make sure that we hold gun dealers across the country who are contributing to the supply of crime guns accountable,” they said.
Ahead of Biden’s speech, the Justice Department on Tuesday announced a new effort to create “strike forces” to slow the flow of guns into cities. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month unveiled a different initiative to send federal agents to cities that need support catching or prosecuting criminals.
Biden’s aides repeatedly stressed in the run-up to the speech that he will seek to attribute the spike in violent crime, which began around May 2020, to the COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered widespread US lockdowns in March 2020, rather than link it to the chaotic aftermath of mass protests and rioting that began in May 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, for instance, repeatedly asserted that crime increased “18 months” ago — despite the fact that side-by-side comparisons of the first five months of 2020 and 2021, demonstrate a significant jump in murders and car thefts.
Biden faces a political minefield, with even liberal pundits warning that soaring crime could wreck Democratic political fortunes and potentially return former President Donald Trump to the White House.
But Biden — once infamous for pushing or authoring laws in the 1980s and ’90s that disproportionately jailed blacks and sent some people to jail for life for marijuana — also risks alienating leftwing advocates of defunding or abolishing the police.
White House officials who previewed Biden’s speech said he will mention that states who received $350 billion as part of a March COVID-19 bill can use that money on police — though Biden aides have been careful to use the term “community policing,” which emphasizes policing that makes an effort to keep good relations with locals.
“A city like Atlanta experiencing a surge in gun violence as a result of the pandemic could choose to use a portion of their American Rescue Plan dollars to hire more officers or to pay them overtime when those funds would be used to advance community policing,” a senior White House official said.
When 2020 data is complete, the national murder rate is expected to be about 25 percent above 2019. In major US cities, murders and other violent crimes remain high this year.
In 2020, New York City’s murder rate soared 44 percent to 462 murders driven by slayings in the second half of the year. Shootings were up 97 percent last year, burglaries were up 42 percent and car thefts increased 67 percent.
The crime spree has continued into 2021.
New York City had 17.4 percent more murders, 73 percent more shootings and 24.9 percent more car thefts as of the end of May compared to the year-to-date total in May 2020. In Washington, DC, murders as of late May were up 25 percent compared to the same time in 2020 and vehicle thefts were up 34 percent.
The national rate of violent crime gradually declined in the 1990s and early 2000s before increasing in 2015 — in what some analysts dubbed the “Ferguson effect” after a theorize policing pullback after nationwide unrest over a series of well-publicized fatal police encounters, including the August 2014 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown during an altercation with a police officer in a St Louis suburb.