Biden: federal, local governments must work together to fight U.S. crime

WASHINGTON, July 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden urged local and federal leaders to "come together" to reduce gun violence on Monday at a meeting with law enforcement officers and mayors aimed at tackling an alarming rise in crime in many cities.

Biden, who has pledged to push for sweeping changes to firearms laws, last month unveiled measures to stem the flow of firearms used in crimes, building on executive orders signed in April that include a push by the Justice Department to better control self-assembled "ghost guns."

The Democratic president, who has longstanding ties to law enforcement, has also announced steps to hold rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws and help states hire more police officers using COVID-19 rescue funds.

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Violent crime rose sharply in 2020: homicides were up 30% and gun violence rose 8%.

"We recognize that we have to come together to fulfill the first responsibility of a democracy and to keep each other safe. And that’s what the American people are looking for when it comes to reducing violent crime and gun violence," Biden said at the start of the meeting at the White House.

Biden outlined aspects of his plan to reduce gun violence but acknowledged there was no one-size-fits-all approach.

Republicans have called the spike in crime evidence of weak Democratic policies and are looking to make it a focus of the 2022 elections that will determine control of Congress.

They have also sought to portray Biden as supportive of calls to "defund" the police that spread after the murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white policeman in May 2020.

Biden's proposed budget actually boosts funding for community policing by $300 million. It also pours $750 million in additional funds into federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

"Our strategy provides including funding for law enforcement through the American Rescue Plan for states, cities and to be able to hire police and pay them overtime, in order to advance community policing," Biden said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland attended the meeting along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who recently won the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Police chiefs from Chicago; Memphis, Tennessee; Wilmington, Delaware; and Newark, New Jersey, were also scheduled to attend, the White House said.

Biden promised during his campaign that he would take action against gun violence on the first day of his administration. Critics, including some gun control activists, say his efforts to date have been limited, however.

Gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, are one of the thorniest issues in American politics. Democrats, whohold a razor-thin majority in the current Congress, generally support gun controls, while Republicans generally oppose them.

Biden has taken steps to crack down on illegal gun sales by licensed dealers, reduce gun trafficking in major cities, and strongly backs expanded background checks for gun purchasers.

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Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Merdie Nzanga; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall

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