What To Know Today

Gun violence gets about three minutes in the State of the Union. In his lengthy speech last night — much of which focused on the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, and inflation — President Joe Biden did a lot of summarizing. But he didn’t present any new ideas on decreasing gun violence. In those three minutes, he memorialized two New York City police officers killed in the line of duty after they were shot with a stolen gun. He also laid out the actions his administration has taken to prevent gun violence, like forthcoming ghost gun regulations and funding for violence intervention programs. Biden used most of this time to highlight police as a solution: “The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them, fund them — fund them with the resources and training,” he said. Before moving on to voting rights, he called on Congress to pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons, and regulate high-capacity magazines. The president also overstated the protections gun manufacturers enjoy from lawsuits: A 2005 law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, does protect gun manufacturers, but not to the degree Biden claimed: “Repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued, the only one,” he said. The claim, which he has made numerous times before, was wrong on two fronts. Other industries, like drug makers, also have some protection from liability. And gun makers can still be subject to litigation for some wrongdoing. The law does protect them from being held liable when guns they make or sell are used in crimes, which has prevented some shooting victims from seeking accountability in the courts. — Chip Brownlee, reporter

California’s victim compensation agency gave out $6M less in 2020. That’s according to a Guardian analysis of data from the state’s victim compensation board from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. The review found that compensation declined for all major types of crime except homicides — amid a historic spike in gun violence, the family members of murder victims saw $2 million more than the previous year. The program also saw a decline in applications for compensation, with 40,600 claims submitted compared to over 50,000 the year before. Even with the decline in claims, the board denied 900 more applications than they did the previous year. A representative for the board told The Guardian that the pandemic adversely affected outreach efforts. But advocates said the lack of public awareness preceded the pandemic. Problems are frequent with victim compensation programs: Last July, former Trace staffers Lakeidra Chavis and Daniel Nass explored why less than 40 percent of applicants to Illinois’ version of victims’ compensation receive benefits — and why many more don’t apply in the first place.

Jury selection began in the first criminal trial to begin related to the Capitol insurrection. The Washington Post has a can’t-miss preview that details the charges against Guy Wesley Reffitt and shows how the federal government’s case could be a bellwether for how others go. Reffitt, alleged to be a recruiter for the anti-government Three Percenters militia, faces five felony charges related to his participation in the events of January 6, 2021. One of them is for trespassing at the U.S. Capitol while carrying a handgun and another is witness tampering after he allegedly threatened his children not to turn him in. “Traitors get shot,” Reffitt, 49, was accused of telling his 18-year-old son. Federal prosecutors plan on calling at least one militia member informant to testify against Reffitt in exchange for immunity.

Introducing Vital City, a NYC-focused journal on public safety. The first issue of the new publication, which is all about gun violence, launched today and features articles from public safety experts across disciplines. In an introduction to the first issue, co-editors Greg Berman and Elizabeth Glazer explain why they chose gun violence. “If safety is the bedrock of urban life, gunplay is the depth charge that can destroy it,” they wrote, adding how they envision the way forward: “We hope to chart a course that sidesteps the paralyzing either/or between those who argue that we need to default to police to solve our public safety problems by force and those who argue that police have no role to play in making our neighborhoods safer.” Among other topics, articles in the first issue touch on the failure to confront urban inequality as a chief driver in neighborhoods being trapped in generational violence; young people’s cynicism about the legal system and why they choose to carry; and the promise of community-led interventions as well as the ongoing struggle to fund them and evaluate their effects. The case for investing in “civic goods”: In one essay that was published ahead of time in The Gotham Gazette, criminologists Anna Harvey and Jennifer Doleac review the evidence and argue for the violence-reducing potential of things like youth summer jobs programs, neighborhood beautification, and expanding short-term financial assistance. 

Attempts to overturn Virginia gun reforms fail in a Senate committee. Despite losing the governorship and the House, Democrats showed the value of having even a razor-thin majority in the Virginia Senate. A Senate committee defeated several GOP-introduced measures, including a repeal of the state’s red flag law and a measure that would have prevented localities from establishing ordinances to prohibit the possession or carrying of guns. The laws the Republicans sought to push back were part of a historic package of reforms the state enacted in 2020.

Data Point

1.3 million — the number of guns Americans bought last month, according to our analysis of FBI data, down 3 percent from February 2021 and about the same total as this January. [The Trace]