Days after two police officers were killed by a suspect using an illegal gun, President Joe Biden headed to New York City Thursday to meet with Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul and to announce new actions targeting gun violence that the White House says builds on his "comprehensive strategy" unveiled last June.
"Enough is enough because we know we can do things about this," Biden said in afternoon remarks from NYPD headquarters. "But for the resistance, we're getting from some sectors of the government and the Congress and the state legislatures and the organizational structures out there -- you know, Mayor Adams, you and I agree, the answer is not to abandon our streets, that's not the answer."
"The answer is not to defund the police, it's to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors and community needs you," Biden said to applause. "Police need to treat everyone with respect and dignity."
Senior administration officials said on a call with reporters Wednesday evening that Biden is visiting New York City "because it is a community where they continue, like many other cities across the country, to experience a spike in gun violence."
Traveling with Attorney General Merrick Garland, Biden's trip intends to highlight a set of new actions from the Justice Department which includes directing all U.S. Attorney's Offices to increase resources dedicated to district-specific violent crime strategies, and increasing personnel and other resources to strengthen task forces that target the illegal flow of guns up the East Coast, similar to the one that was used in the recent fatal shooting of two NYPD officers.
Biden said the Department of Justice will also take steps "today" to prioritize federal prosecutions of those who "criminally sell or transfer firearms that are used in violent crimes" and launch a National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative to help bring cases against those who use so-called "ghost guns" to commit crimes.
"If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, not only are state and local prosecutors gonna come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well. We've also created a strike force to crack down on illegal gun trafficking across state lines," Biden said Thursday.
The president introduced the new initiatives at a meeting on gun violence prevention before heading to Queens with Garland, Adams and Hochul to discuss community violence intervention programs with local leaders.
Having long fought for more investments in community-based policing, Biden made the case for additional resources to be given to police in order to deal with a number of different situations, including issues with mental health.
"We need more social workers. We need mental health workers. We need more people who when you're called on these scenes, and someone's about to jump off a roof is not just someone standing there with a with a, with a weapon. It's someone who also knows how to talk to people, talk them down," Biden said.
"We can't expect you to do every single solitary thing that needs to be done to keep the community safe. It's time to fund community policing to protect and serve the community." he continued, adding that he was calling for increased funding for the ATF and U.S. Marshalls office.
"I'll keep doing everything in my power to make sure that communities are safer, but Congress needs to do its part, too," Biden said in prepared remarks. "Pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, close loopholes to keep out of the hands of domestic abusers weapons, repeal the liability shield for gun manufacturers."
He also offered a word for the families of the fallen NYPD officers to begin the meeting and recognized Officer Sumit Sulan, the third officer that responded to the fatal incident.
"And let me start by saying, Detective Wilmer Mora and Jason Rivera are the who and what law enforcement ought to be," Biden said. "I've spoken to their families, and their loss for the city is also a loss for the nation.
Lamenting on what he called "futures cut short by a man with a stolen Glock with 40 rounds," Biden called the firearm, "really, a weapon of war."
"As the mayor said, as he pointed out, guns that are used to kill people in New York City, they aren't made in New York City, they aren't sold in New York City. They are sold in other places. Today the Attorney General directed all U.S. attorneys in the United States to prioritize combating gun trafficking across state lines and city boundaries," he added.
Following the president's remarks, New York City's new mayor spoke about his own blueprint to address crime in New York City released last week and praised Biden for making the visit to highlight the issue.
"The president is here because he knows what the American people want: justice, safety and prosperity and they deserve every bit of it," Adams said, adding later that he and Biden are on the "same page... a reason they call me the Biden of Brooklyn."
With the exception of murder, there was an increase in every other kind of major crime in New York City during January 2022 compared to the same month a year ago, according to NYPD statistics released Thursday as Biden visited.
There was a 31% increase in shootings -- 100 in January 2022 compared to 76 in January 2021 -- and sizable increases in grand larceny and grand larcenies involving cars.
After a series of mass shootings at the start of his presidency last year and facing pressure to act, Biden issued a half dozen limited gun control executive actions in April, which included actions on "ghost guns" and pistol-stabilizing braces.
The president is limited in his authority to act alone on gun control reforms and is continuing to call on Congress to act legislatively, though after months of negotiations, the most recent talks on gun reforms failed in September.
Biden called on lawmakers Thursday to reach a bipartisan agreement on an appropriations bill that includes $300 million to expand community policing and $200 million for evidence-based community violence interventions.
But the visit also comes as Biden is facing significant skepticism from the American public, with his job approval rating lagging across a range of major issues, including new lows for his handling of crime and gun violence, an ABC/Ipsos poll from December found.
As the national murder rates see historic jumps, only a little more than 1 in 3 Americans (36%) approve of Biden's handling of crime, down from 43% in an ABC News/Ipsos poll in late October. Similarly, approval of Biden's handling of gun violence is 32%, down from 39% in the October poll. That figure shrinks among nonpartisans with only 1 in 4 independents approving of Biden's work on gun violence.