New office to target gun violence

Biden announces federal effort, chooses VP Harris to lead it

President Joe Biden and Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., walk to the Rose Garden of the White House for an event on gun safety Friday in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden said Friday he was determined to stop gun violence in the U.S. as he formally announced the first-ever federal office to be dedicated to uncovering solutions and supporting communities ravaged by shootings.

"After every mass shooting, we hear a simple message ... do something. Please do something," he said from the Rose Garden, where he was joined by lawmakers and families of victims of gun violence. "My administration has been working relentlessly to do something."

The new office of gun violence prevention will be led by Vice President Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor whose experience is perfect for this effort, Biden said. The office's goals include ensuring a bipartisan gun safety law passed last year is fully implemented nationwide along with Biden's executive actions to stop gun violence.

It will seek to find new actions the White House can take unilaterally as further congressional support for gun safety laws seems slim. It will aim to build better support systems in states and cities and coordinate support for families who have lived through mass shootings and violence.

"Shootings are the ultimate superstorm," Biden said.

But the office is limited in what it can do. In order to tighten restrictions or pass a ban on so-called assault weapons, as Biden repeatedly called for, Congress would need to pass legislation. That seems unlikely. In the year since the 2022 law was passed, Republican support for restrictions has slipped.

Still, Biden and Democrats are banking on gun safety as a major party animator for 2024, particularly for younger voters. The president was joined Friday by Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., the youngest member of Congress, who said he got involved in politics because "I didn't want to get shot in school."

Firearms are the No. 1 killer of children in the U.S. So far this year 220 children younger than 11 have died by guns and 1,054 between the ages of 12 and 17 have died.

"We all want our kids to have the freedom to learn how to read and write instead of duck and cover, for God's sake," the president said.

As of Friday, there have been at least 35 mass killings in the U.S. so far in 2023, leaving at least 171 people dead, not including shooters who died, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.

Harris said while this violence affects all communities, it does not do so equally -- communities of color are far more likely to suffer.

"I have seen with my own eyes what a bullet does to the human body," she said. "We cannot normalize any of this."