What To Know Today

Reading the tea leaves on the White House and guns. While the president has a few potential paths forward on guns that don’t require Congressional cooperation, a slim Democratic Senate majority and the persistence of the filibuster make federal gun legislation a tall order. Fresh Politico reporting offers a few clues on several executive actions under discussion, including:

  • Vetting for ghost guns: Citing people who have spoken to the White House, the outlet reports that one policy under consideration would require buyers of ghost gun parts to undergo a background check. Context: See our primer on the unserialized guns that exist outside the traditional supply chain and have increasingly shown up at crime scenes.
  • Skepticism on a Charleston loophole fix outside Congress: Senator Richard Blumenthal tells Politico that Biden officials currently seem to prefer using legislation to tweak the policy that has allowed prohibited purchasers to buy a gun before a background check is complete.

Meanwhile, community anti-violence groups are hopeful but express urgency after meeting with administration officials. “As our country and communities mourn the loss of over 500,000 people because of COVID-19, we are also committed to stop the other deadly epidemic disproportionately in Black and Brown communities — gun violence,” read a statement issued by the leaders of Black and Brown-led organizations who met with White House officials last week. They said they were encouraged “by the conversations and commitment the Biden administration is making on racial equity and gun violence prevention.” Community-focused violence prevention groups have zeroed in on several policies, including a Biden pledge to earmark nearly a billion dollars in grant funding for local violence-prevention initiatives.

New York City details pilot program to send mental health teams in place of armed officers on some 911 calls. The program, set to launch sometime this spring, will have teams made up of a mental health professional and two fire department EMTs. It will begin in three precincts in Harlem and East Harlem that together accounted for the highest share of mental health-related 911 calls last year. (Citywide, police and EMTs fielded about 154,000 such calls). Under the pilot program, police would still respond to mental health calls where a weapon or other imminent danger is reported. Cities including Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have launched similar alternative approaches.

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother launches federal civil rights suit against the three men indicted for her son’s death. The civil complaint from Wanda Cooper, which came on the year anniversary of the fatal shooting of her 25-year-old son in Georgia, seeks damages and names local police and prosecutors as defendants. The suit accuses them of having “willfully and maliciously conspired to follow, threaten, detain and kill Ahmaud Arbery.” A day of tributes: Family, friends, activists, and community leaders remembered his life. “You want to make sure you keep Ahmaud’s name alive,” said his high school football coach.

Revealed: A neo-Nazi group’s plan for a fortified compound in Michigan to launch their race war. Justen Watkins, the onetime leader of The Base, had plans to create a heavily armed, all-white community in the state’s upper peninsula, according to secret chats obtained by Vice News. Watkins was subsequently arrested and is currently awaiting trial. More from the Trace: We reported on how a cell of the hate group, which was allegedly planning to commit violence at a Richmond gun rally last year, built up a cache of DIY weapons.

Data Point

~14 percent — the share of all federal charges brought against defendants in 2019 that were for gun crimes, steadily up from 2012, according to a forthcoming paper on the trajectory of federal gun cases over several decades. [University of Pennsylvania Law Review]