‘It will save lives’: Biden and Harris launch gun violence prevention office

<span>Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP</span>
Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP
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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris announced on Friday the creation of a first-of-its-kind federal Office of Gun Violence Prevention, aimed at reducing the US’s epidemic of gun violence, which claimed the lives of more than 48,000 people last year.

“None of these steps alone is going to solve the entirety of the gun violence epidemic,” Biden said during a White House event. “But together they will save lives and it’s going to help rally the nation to a sense of urgency and seriousness and purpose.”

Harris will oversee the office, which is tasked with creating a coordinated federal response akin to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) that will connect survivors of gun violence with mental and physical health services. The office will also explore executive actions the president can take to reduce shootings, Biden said.

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“President Biden and I continue to be deeply inspired by the students who are leading this movement,” Harris said, standing alongside Maxwell Frost, a representative from Florida and the first gen Z congressmember. “In so many ways we are then propelled by their work, being propelled by what you are doing, we’re expanding our work.”

In 2020, less than a year into the Biden-Harris administration, the US saw the biggest single-year increase in homicides, with Black Americans facing a higher risk of being shot and killed than other racial groups in the US. That same year, guns overtook cars and cancer to become the No 1 killer of children and teenagers in the US. Suicide, the most common type of gun death, also has risen among the nation’s Black youth.

Stefanie Feldman, a longtime Biden adviser on gun policy, will serve as director of the office, and Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox, who have led national prevention efforts through the Community Justice Action Fund and Everytown for Gun Safety, respectively will be deputy directors.

It’s not the first time the administration has taken on gun violence. As vice-president, Biden was outspoken about the need for tighter firearms regulations, and as president he’s used executive actions to regulate homemade firearms, known as ghost guns. Last year he signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which tightens background checks and bolsters mental health programs.

Biden also has advocated for re-instating the national assault weapons ban and expanding background checks. The historic increase in gun homicides in 2020 pushed community-based violence prevention up the administration’s agenda.

“We’re a winning movement doing very difficult work,” said Frost, who before Congress served as organizing director of March for Our Lives, the student-led gun control group that was born out of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida.

“The brutal truth is that when the most people are paying attention to our movement, it’s usually coupled with carnage and death, but not today,” he said. “Today the country sees us at the White House with a president who’s taking action.”