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Police group to push for new gun laws as crime hangs over campaign

Election-year launch comes as public sees crime rising despite statistics showing a drop

President Joe Biden speaks about gun safety at Everytown's Gun Sense University at the Washington Hilton on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden speaks about gun safety at Everytown's Gun Sense University at the Washington Hilton on Tuesday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of law enforcement officials touted the formation of a new organization Tuesday to endorse federal candidates and argue that Congress has not done enough to protect public safety. 

The announcement followed new crime statistics that the White House said showed President Joe Biden’s policies at work, and during an election where public perceptions about crime is seen a tool Republicans can use to win seats in Congress.

The new group, Police Leaders for Community Safety, plans to push for stronger gun laws, such as closing loopholes, requiring background checks for gun buyers, and cracking down on “ghost guns.” It also wants to provide support for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

“Our organization was formed by prominent police leaders from around the nation that are completely fed up to act on vital measures that we know will save lives and make us all safer,” said Susan Riseling, the chair of the group’s board of directors who served as police chief and associate vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The group said it is nonpartisan, but it also plans to endorse candidates and focusing on stricter gun laws is a position more commonly taken by Democrats. It’s also one Biden addressed separately on Tuesday. 

Biden hailed anti-gun activists at an event in Washington hosted by the Everytown for Gun Safety group, saying collectively they have helped power a movement that is helping turn this cause into reality. And he delivered a shout-out for a key voting bloc.

“Especially young people who demanded our nation do better. … You protested, you organized, you voted, you ran for office, and yes, you marched for [your] lives. From my perspective, today is about celebrating you,” Biden said.

Biden’s remarks came hours after a jury found his son, Hunter Biden, guilty on three felony charges related to lying on a firearms application. He did not address the case in his speech.

Biden did say those at the event had helped drive down violent crime. Some Republican lawmakers and conservative media outlets for months have described major U.S. cities as crime-riddled and a reason voters should reject Democrats. The White House and Biden campaign in recent days have pushed federal data showing the opposite.

“Last year, we saw the largest decrease in murder in history,” he said. “Last year, we also saw one of the lowest rates of violent crime in nearly 50 years.”

Violent crime drop

It appears that violent crime is continuing to trend downward. The FBI announced on Monday a 15 percent decrease in reported violent crime across the country in the first quarter of the year compared to the same time period in 2023. Overall, reported murders dropped by more than 26 percent, rape by more than 25 percent, robbery by more than 17 percent and aggravated assault by 12 percent, according to FBI statistics.

The Biden administration touted the decrease in a statement Monday, citing funding for law enforcement in the 2021 pandemic recovery law and changes brought about by a 2022 gun violence law.

The decrease in the first quarter of 2024 continues from a smaller decrease of 5 percent in all violent crime for the last quarter of 2023 relative to the last quarter of 2022, according to FBI statistics. At the time, the Biden administration touted that decrease as reaching a nearly 50-year low in reported violent crime.

Research by Gallup and others, however, has shown a disconnect between actual crime data and Americans’ reported perception of crime. In 2023, even as crime declined from a pandemic high, 77 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll reported that there was more crime that year than the year before.

A House Republican strategist said that much of Republicans’ messaging on crime this year is likely to be tied to blaming Biden and Democrats for the border crisis. Focusing on crime could continue to be meaningful in New York, where Republicans flipped several House seats that helped them clinch control in 2022, as well as in other areas that have seen a surge in migrants, such as Colorado. 

Even if statistics show that crime is going down, messaging on crime can still be effective if people don’t feel safe in their communities, the strategist said. 

The new group, led by former police professionals, many of whom also consult or teach, said it plans to begin accepting donations from the public and will endorse candidates in federal races whose policy positions match theirs. 

Dave Mahoney, the group’s treasurer, said during a press conference that a committee is working on a process for assessing candidates and considering endorsements that they hope to roll out shortly. He didn’t detail what sort of support the group’s endorsed candidates would receive. 

Dan Oates, who was the police chief in Aurora, Colo,. in July 2012 when a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater, said Congress “has failed to act on common sense regulations to control these weapons.” He pushed back on those who say new restrictions would violate the Second Amendment.

“Our organization strongly supports the Constitution and all its amendments,” Oates said. “We also know that there are precedents and lawful means to ensure reasonable regulations and restrictions on military assault rifles.”

John T. Bennett and Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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