By Mario Villar
New York, Feb 3 (EFE).- Amid a generalized resurgence in violence in US cities, President Joe Biden on Thursday announced new measures to make access to firearms more difficult for criminals and to guarantee that the police have enough resources to respond.
Biden traveled to New York to speak about the noteworthy increase in murders and to provide his support for local security forces after the recent killing of two law enforcement officers in Harlem.
“We’re not about defunding (the police), we’re about funding,” emphasized Biden, reiterating his opposition to the demand that became popular during the protests against police violence over the past few years and which was embraced by a good portion of the country’s political left.
In an address at the New York Police Department headquarters, the president insisted that he wanted to give officers “the tools, the training, (and) the funding” they need to protect their communities.
Biden and his administration have developed a plan to invest $500 million in strengthening the police in US cities and in initiatives like fostering after-school activities so that teenagers are occupied with productive interests, along with creating economic opportunities in the country’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, although the funding must still be approved by Congress.
With public opinion more and more concerned over the lack of safety and the continuing criticism from the Republican Party, which accuses the Democrats of being soft on crime, the president made clear on Thursday that his administration does not want to just stand by while the firearms problem gets worse, given that last year gun violence took more than 20,000 lives – not counting suicides – in the United States, according to the tally kept by the Gun Violence Archive.
The actions Biden announced, however, do not include anything that is significantly new, focusing mainly on applying the already-extant rules and regulations more stringently, above all regarding the illegal trafficking in weaponry.
“This doesn’t violate anybody’s Second Amendment right,” said Biden. “There’s no amendment that’s absolute. You couldn’t buy a cannon when this amendment was passed. There’s no reason why you should be able to buy certain assault weapons.”
Biden took advantage of the occasion, once again, to demand that Congress make important legislative reforms that for now have no chance of being passed, including prohibiting ownership of assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips, background checks for gun buyers and ending the “immunity” enjoyed by gun manufacturers from lawsuits brought by people who have been affected by gun violence.
The White House, which last year presented a broad strategy against gun violence, made the commitment on Thursday to strengthen cooperation with local and state authorities to halt the rise in shootings.
In particular, the plan seeks to put an end to the ongoing flow of guns from southern states, which in general have less stringent rules and regulations governing gun ownership, to cities in the northeastern US like New York, which are much more restrictive but where those pistols and rifles end up and are used by criminals.
The plan also includes acting against the so-called “ghost guns,” pistols assembled at home that lack serial numbers to identify them and the use of which has increased 400 percent since 2016, according to figures released on Thursday.
The current surge in violence began with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and is affecting the majority of US cities, resulting in some cases – like Philadelphia, the sixth largest US city – in record murder rates.
New York has not been immune to this trend and, for the first time in a decade, last year nearly 500 murders were committed in the area.
That figure is still far below the worst levels of violence – in 1990, for instance, the city registered 2,200 murders – and the levels of violence in other cities like Chicago, which with less than one-third of New York’s population surpassed it in 2021 with 800 homicides.
In the Big Apple, however, the question has sparked heated public controversy after years of an uninterrupted decline in murders, which had led New York to shift from being a much-feared location into one of the country’s safest big cities.
That concern about rising crime can be explained in part by the election of Eric Adams as the city’s new mayor, given that he is a former police officer who stood out among other Democratic mayoral candidates for his messages on public safety and who on Thursday said that he and Biden agree 100 percent in this area.