Chicago, IL

Chicago Mayor, Cook County Board President Attend Launch of New White House Gun Safety Office

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Chicago Mayor, Cook County Board President, Illinois Rep. Present at historic violence prevention event

In the face of persistent gun violence across the nation, President Joe Biden took action on Friday by inaugurating the inaugural White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. The event unfolded in the Rose Garden, where President Biden was joined by Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Illinois Representative Robin Kelly (D).

During his remarks at the launch, President Biden emphasized the urgent need for comprehensive gun safety reform. He highlighted the devastating impact of gun violence on American communities and families, underscoring that it is a public health crisis that demands immediate action.

"The new office will drive and coordinate a government and a nationwide effort to curb gun violence in America,” Biden said.

The newly established office, established by Presidential executive order, will be under the supervision of Vice President Kamala Harris. This development reflects a shifting focus in the fight against gun violence, with both the White House and various organizations working to address this issue increasingly turning to state and local regulations for solutions. This shift comes as the prospects of new gun-related legislation passing through Congress is unlikely, given the lack of support from Republican lawmakers.

“With this new office, we will use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right," Vice President Harris said.

The White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is expected to serve as a central hub for coordinating federal efforts to address the root causes of gun violence, implement effective policies, and support communities disproportionately affected by this issue.

The Illinois officials invited have a critical stake in the new White House Initiative. Gun violence in Chicago is among the highest in the country. In the year 2022, Chicago witnessed 2,000 shootings and 500 shooting homicides. This surpassed the number of incidents of gun related violence in New York City and Los Angeles combined.

The office's main duties, as outlined by President Biden, include:

  • Enforce the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and other previously announced executive orders related to firearms. In June 2022, President Biden signed the Safer Communities legislation, marking the first time in nearly thirty years that Congress took legislative action following mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. The passage of this law was celebrated by President Biden in a South Lawn event in July 2022. Notably, the Safer Communities law did not incorporate a ban on assault weapons or impose restrictions on high-capacity magazines. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a separate law on January 10, 2023, prohibiting the sale and distribution of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the state.
  • Facilitate increased assistance for survivors, their families, and communities affected by gun violence. President Biden envisions a federal government response akin to FEMA's approach to natural disasters, which would encompass mental health services and financial support.
  • Identify new executive actions within President Biden's authority.
  • President Biden emphasized the need to broaden the coalition of partners at the state and local levels throughout the United States. The aim is to garner more support from states and cities to pass these laws on a local level.

In interviews, Mayor Johnson was asked what this new initiative could do for Chicago. Johnson replied that it was good chance to organize state, federal and local efforts so they can work together. Johnson also pointed out that he has created a similar initiative, the Chicago City Hall office for community safety, appointing the first deputy mayor of the office to focus on the gun issue.

During the interviews Preckwinkle noted that she wanted to mark the passage of the Safer Communities Act, was asked what she thought this new office could accomplish.

“We always need more resources,” the Cook County Board President replied. “And if there is a point of contact to try to secure those resources, I think that is tremendously helpful. And having an office in the federal administration that has this as their mission, to work with local units of governments to meet the challenges that gun violence presents, I think will be very helpful.”

When questioned about the potential influence of this office on the Chicago region, Representative Kelly, whose district stretches from the South Side of Chicago to the vicinity of Kankakee, commented that it could facilitate improved organize the efforts of both local and national gun-related organizations and help them work together.

“There will be more investments in neighborhoods and underserved communities and our youth. I always say nothing stops a bullet like an opportunity," the Illinois Representative said.

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