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.
Colleen Long, The Associated Press