What To Know Today

Merrick Garland becomes the next attorney general. The longtime federal appeals court judge was confirmed in a bipartisan Senate vote. In confirmation hearings, Garland pledged to prioritize the fight against domestic terrorism. He also said he would fight imbalances in the criminal justice system that disproportionately affect people of color, and expressed support for the Justice Department’s role in pursuing local police accountability. With oversight of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other agencies, the department has wide latitude to enforce and regulate gun laws, and Garland will be a key player in charting the administration’s gun policy. During his campaign, President Joe Biden said he would direct his attorney general to recommend ways for restructuring the ATF and other DOJ agencies to more effectively enforce gun laws. Otherwise, Garland has said he would work to enforce existing laws — including keeping people barred from having guns from obtaining them — and deferred to Biden’s agenda on any new policies, so long as they are “consistent with the law.”

More voters trust Democrats than Republicans when it comes to guns — but only just. Overall, 44 percent of voters trusted Democrats on gun policy, compared to 38 percent for Republicans (19 percent were undecided), according to a Morning Consult/Politico survey. The six-point advantage was far less than Democrats’ lead on issues like the environment, climate change, coronavirus relief, or health care. 

Meanwhile, universal background checks remain one of the most popular proposed policies. The same survey found that 84 percent of voters — including 78 percent of Republicans — support requiring background checks for all gun purchases. A House bill currently under consideration would extend checks to all private sales and most transfers. The new poll found lower but still a plurality of support for another House Democratic bill: Forty-eight percent of voters want to fix the so-called Charleston loophole that allows a gun sale to automatically proceed if a background check isn’t completed in three days. The House is scheduled to vote on both bills later today. Both are expected to pass, but face an uphill path in the Senate.

A fatal police shooting in Boston last year emphasizes the country’s mental health crisis. A growing number of cities — including Albuquerque, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco — are restricting armed officers from responding to nonviolent mental health calls in the hopes of diffusing situations that in the past have escalated to police shootings. A new article from Bloomberg’s CityLab steps back by looking at the 2020 shooting of Justin Root, which typifies the multiple systemic failures that have given mental health patients across the country few options to get help.

Kyle Rittenhouse trial delayed by months. The 18-year-old was charged with homicide for allegedly fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during August protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The trial was scheduled to start March 29, but both sides in the case told a judge they wanted more time to prepare. The judge set the new start date as Nov. 1.

Data Point

19 — the number of shootings in 2020 at the intersection in Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed last year. In 2019, the number was three. The trial for Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before he died, is currently underway. [Slate