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Biden announces new office to combat gun violence

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In the Rose Garden today, President Biden stood in front of a group of activists and pledged to do more to stop gun violence. He says the politics of the issue have shifted.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Folks, there comes a point where our voices are so loud, our determination so clear that our effort can no longer be stopped.

SUMMERS: Biden is starting an office within the White House that will be dedicated to finding new ways to prevent gun violence. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid was at that event and joins us now. Hey there.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi. Good to talk to you.

SUMMERS: You, too. So President Biden has been talking about gun violence prevention for so much of his career. Why is he starting this office now?

KHALID: Well, you know, Juana, he has sort of reached the end of the road in terms of what he can do legislatively. You know, you've heard him call quite a bit recently for an assault weapons ban, but that is extremely unlikely to happen. And given the current makeup of Congress, I would say any more action on guns seems fairly far-fetched. And gun control activists - I will say, particularly young voters - have been asking for an office like this in the White House for years. So I will say what we're seeing from Biden today is a response to the private and public pleas that they've been making.

That all being said, I think it's also hard to ignore the electoral politics as Biden heads into a reelection campaign. I spoke to David Hogg about this all earlier this week. He was one of the co-founders of the March For Lives movement that sprung up after the mass shooting at his high school in Parkland, Fla., a few years ago, and he pointed out that this is important for Biden in 2024.

DAVID HOGG: He needs young voters to win again. He especially needs younger voters of color that were critical to his election in 2020.

KHALID: And, you know, at the event this afternoon at the White House, there were rows and rows of young people - activists who've been advocating on this issue. And, Juana, to me, that was noteworthy because you don't see a lot of events at the White House...

SUMMERS: Right.

KHALID: ...Full of people in their 20s.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

KHALID: You know, Biden was introduced by Congressman Maxwell Frost - he's the first Gen Z member of Congress - who said he was motivated to get into politics because of his concerns about gun violence.

SUMMERS: I mean, Asma, it was not that long ago that the powerful gun lobby would've tried to marshal support against something like this. So tell us - how much have the politics of the gun conversation changed?

KHALID: I mean, public opinion certainly does seem to be on the president's side, even if Congress is not. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that more Americans say it's important to curb gun violence than protect gun rights. You know, I recall doing some reporting after the 2018 midterms on how gun control was suddenly no longer this third rail in politics. That midterm election cycle in 2018 was the first time you saw gun control groups spend more money than gun rights groups like the NRA. It's been, I would say, quite a paradigm shift over the last few years.

SUMMERS: OK. And about this new office, what exactly is it going to do?

KHALID: Well, it is fundamentally about elevating the issue and providing dedicated staff to the effort. Vice President Harris will oversee it. The White House says that the office will help implement already-existing gun law and dig deep to see if there is any additional executive actions that the president can take. It'll also coordinate more support for survivors. The White House compared this streamlining and coordination of effort to the way that FEMA responds to natural disasters - though, Juana, I will say, of course, gun violence is not a natural disaster.

SUMMERS: NPR's Asma Khalid, reporting from the White House. Thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.