Update: White House officials confirmed that President Joe Biden will announce the creation of a White House Office of Violence Prevention at an event in the Rose Garden on September 22. Vice President Kamala Harris will oversee the new office and its work, with Stefanie Feldman serving as its director.
Since before he took office in January 2021, dozens of organizations that advocate for gun reform have been asking President Joe Biden to create a federal office focused solely on preventing gun violence. As early as November 2020, some 85 advocacy groups told the Biden transition team that a dedicated office could help coordinate a national response to the crisis.
Now, The Washington Post and Politico report that Biden could announce the office as soon as September 22 in a speech in the Rose Garden. It would be a first-of-its-kind move that signals a heightened focus on the issue at a time when legislation in Congress is largely stalled and Biden is gearing up for a reelection campaign.
As gun deaths in the United States soared during Biden’s first year in office, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, many gun reform advocates, a constituency critical to Biden’s reelection, began referring to it as a “demand” — not just a request. Establishing an office to tackle gun violence could mean that the federal government’s disparate agencies working on the issue could be brought together to collaborate, instead of tackling facets of it in isolation, as The Trace previously reported.
“The major thing is that there is something created that can sustain a comprehensive strategy, and, year-to-year, continue to build on that strategy,” Greg Jackson, the executive director of the Community Justice Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that promotes community-based strategies for violence prevention, told The Trace last year.
Jackson is expected to have a leading role in the new office, the Post and Politico reported.
Calls for such an office have not been limited to outside advocacy groups. Some 36 members of Congress in 2021 wrote Biden a letter in favor of creating the office, saying that doing so would break down silos among a long list of agencies working on the issue and signal that the federal government is taking the crisis seriously.
In 2022, the White House suggested that it was taking a different approach, officials told The Trace in response to questions about advocates’ calls. At the time, the White House pointed to Susan Rice, the now-former head of the Domestic Policy Council, as the administration’s point person on gun policy, but her portfolio expanded far beyond the issue. The White House later attempted to reassure advocates that it was taking the issue seriously by publicly outlining its gun violence team.
At the time, Stefanie Feldman, then a senior aide to Rice and the Domestic Policy Council, wrote that the White House’s approach — and the way its team was organized — was best able to deliver results: “This is what a whole-of-government effort truly looks like in practice.”
The new office is expected to report through Feldman, who is currently a White House staff secretary and continues to helm gun violence policy. Rob Wilcox, senior director for federal government affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety, is also expected to have a key role in the new office, according to the Post and Politico. The White House declined a request for comment from The Trace after news of the office broke. (Through its nonpolitical arm, Everytown provides grants to The Trace. You can find our donor transparency policy here, and our editorial independence policy here.)
While Biden has directed several departments — sometimes separately and sometimes in collaboration — to take steps to address gun violence through enforcement, regulation, and funding, there was no hub focused solely on coordinating a federal response. While he hadn’t yet moved on creating a central office, Biden did take other steps to address gun violence, including by attempting to expand background checks and regulate ghost guns and pistol braces through executive order, providing millions in funding for community-based violence prevention, and urging Congress to pass gun reform, including the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first federal gun reform law in nearly three decades.
Advocates Say Biden Is Ignoring a Major Gun Violence Prevention Opportunity
But advocates said more needed to be done. Though shootings nationwide began to decline from their pandemic highs, in the intervening months, the death toll from public mass shootings continued to mount, including at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado; at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California; and a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, among others.
In March, less than a week before the Nashville Covenant School shooting, Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who co-authored the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and U.S. Representative Maxwell Frost, a Democrat from Florida and former organizing director of March For Our Lives, proposed companion bills to establish a federal Office of Violence Prevention. Like other gun reform legislation in the tightly divided Senate and Republican-controlled House, the bill hasn’t moved.
“This is an idea I have been pushing relentlessly for some time, and I’m thrilled President Biden is making the Office of Gun Violence Prevention a reality,” Murphy told The Trace. “Establishing a White House office dedicated to this fight will save thousands of lives and strengthen the federal government’s implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
Creating issue-specific offices within the executive branch is not a new strategy. In fact, Biden himself has made use of it, including by establishing a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, a COVID-19 team to coordinate the pandemic response, and a Cancer Moonshot initiative.
While it’s not yet clear what authority and responsibilities Biden will grant the office, advocates’ and lawmakers’ previous calls recommended that the office and its director be responsible for coordinating a governmentwide response that treats gun violence as a public health crisis. It would employ public health strategies, support and evaluate prevention programs, collect much-needed data, and hold other agencies accountable — with the ultimate goal of reducing shootings.
“Gun violence is a complicated issue, and the federal government is a complicated entity,” Natalie Fall, executive director of March For Our Lives, a gun violence prevention group founded by survivors of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, told The Trace. “If our children and young people really are precious to us, then we need to be throwing everything at the gun violence epidemic to try to save lives.”
March For Our Lives was among the first gun reform groups to call for an office, as far back as 2019, continuing its call once Biden was elected, and as recently as September 11, when the organization sent Biden an “urgent request,” reiterating its desire for such an office.
“We need a dedicated, senior leader with the ear of the president to marshal a whole of government approach to address gun violence,” Fall said, “and we’re hopeful that the president may appoint that person soon.”