What To Know Today

In new anti-violence plan, Biden calls for zero tolerance on problem gun dealers, promotes community-led solutions. At the White House, the president announced a policy directing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explives to revoke federal licenses of gun dealers the first time they willfully violate federal law and increase the number of inspections and enforcement actions taken against problematic sellers. These changes follow our major investigation last month with USA TODAY about the agency’s willingness to let gun shops remain in business despite lengthy histories of noncompliance. Brian Freskos parses Biden’s ATF pledges and the rest in a new piece. That’s not all: The full strategy also includes:

  • Prioritizing investments in community-violence intervention efforts, including a new White House collaboration with 15 jurisdictions that have pledged to use federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan or other public funding for community-focused work.
  • New guidance on how local governments can leverage the $350 billion in the ARP to bolster public safety, including hiring more police or using the money for a slew of non-law enforcement programs. (Read more from The Trace’s Jennifer Mascia on what Oregon’s most populous county is doing with its ARP funding.)
  • Helping formerly incarcerated people in 28 communities transition from the criminal justice system and connect with “quality jobs.” 
  • Expanding work opportunities, summer programming, and other social services for young people. The White House pointed to existing federal funding streams in the ARP as well as a recent Labor Department grant for pre-apprenticeship programs.

“For every dollar police departments have for public safety, nonprofits get maybe a penny or two,” said Eddie Bocanegra, a Chicago-based advocate who was at the White House and applauded Biden’s focus on community efforts. “This is an opportunity to increase the resources in the nonprofit sector, particularly in communities that are grappling with these issues and are working to curb this violence.”

Amid record gun sales last year, the share of prohibited would-be buyers ticked up. According to FBI data obtained through a FOIA request from Everytown for Gun Safety, the background check system in 2020 issued the highest number (over 300,000) of annual denials ever, nearly double the amount from 2019; 42 percent of people denied had prior felony convictions. Nor was the increase solely a function of record buying: The number of prohibited purchasers who sought out guns increased from about 0.6 percent to 0.8 percent. One gun policy expert theorized that could be because the surge of first-time buyers included people who were not aware they were banned from purchasing guns. [Everytown’s nonpolitical arm provides funding to The Trace. Here is a list of The Trace’s major donors and its policy on editorial independence.]  

Leading criminal justice reformer on why “defund the police” isn’t to blame for the violence spike. As fraught political debates continue over criminal justice reform, particularly in the shadow of a nationwide increase in violent crime, Fordham Law School professor John Pfaff parses data to argue that progressive demands for reform, including defunding police, are not to blame for the crime uptick, despite a mounting backlash to so-called progressive prosecutors. He points to how homicides rose in 60 of the 69 major police departments last year, despite wildly different criminal justice policies between regions. “One important upshot of this uniformity is that there is no evidence that cities with more progressive prosecutors experienced relatively worse outcomes than those with more conventional district attorneys,” Pfaff writes in The New Republic.

Analysis: Texas’s new silencer law might not achieve what it claims. Last week, the state passed a law permitting the sale of unregistered gun silencers made and sold within Texas, a rule putting the state at odds with federal laws that require a $200 tax stamp and registration with the federal government. Drawing from a 2014 case out of Kansas, which had passed a similar silencer law, The Reload considers that the widespread insistence from Texas lawmakers that their new legislation will protect them from federal interference does not consider the lifetime ban on gun ownership that could arise should the feds prosecute such sales.

The Trace in the media. Our journalists and contributors have been busy lately discussing their work. A few highlights:

Data Point

1,300 — number of people who ended up in the emergency room from 2017 to 2020 after interacting with police in San Jose, California, one of the only jurisdictions that requires officers to report such injuries. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 400,000 people nationwide have gone to the ER after interactions with cops or security guards since 2015, but that is likely an undercount. [The Marshall Project]