WASHINGTON: US president Joe Biden is establishing a new office of gun violence prevention to implement existing safety laws and work with states on the issue, officials said on Thursday.
The new office will be overseen by vice-president Kamala Harris and run with the help of leading gun safety advocates, officials told reporters on a conference call.
“I’ll continue to urge Congress to take common sense actions that the majority of Americans support like enacting universal background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Biden, a Democrat, said in a statement.
“But in the absence of that sorely-needed action, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention along with the rest of my Administration will continue to do everything it can to combat the epidemic of gun violence that is tearing our families, our communities, and our country apart,” he said.
Democrats largely favour stricter gun laws as a way to reduce deaths from gun violence at schools and in cities across the country.
Republicans, with the support of the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group, largely oppose stricter laws, citing the right to bear arms established in the US Constitution’s Second Amendment.
In a rare show of bipartisanship on the issue, Republicans and Democrats passed a package of modest gun safety measures last year, known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and Biden has taken executive action as well on the issue.
Establishing a new office of gun violence prevention has long been on the wish list of anti-violence advocacy groups that were happy with Biden’s record pushing for reforms but wanted the White House to do more.
Putting it under Harris’ purview also gives the vice-president, who has struggled to win over some Democrats in her role as Biden’s No 2, a meaty policy area that is important and popular with their party’s base.
Harris said in a statement that the office would work to be “engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made.”
White House adviser Stefanie Feldman, Biden’s staff secretary, will serve as the director of the office, and gun safety advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox will join the White House as deputies.
“(Biden) believes that now is the moment to accelerate our work ... which is why he is establishing this office,” Feldman told reporters.
She said the office would expedite implementation of the bipartisan federal gun reform law that Biden signed last year, “dig deeper” to find additional actions the administration can take, coordinate support for communities affected by gun violence, and expand partnerships with states and cities.
Gun safety groups welcomed the move.
“We are so pleased that the Biden administration has officially created an Office of Gun Violence Prevention,” said Kris Brown, president of Brady, an advocacy group.
“Just as Fema responds to hurricanes and earthquakes, we have desperately needed a federal agency dedicated to responding to this growing public health crisis,” she said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. - Reuters