President Joe Biden announced a host of executive actions Wednesday, many of them backing up his long-standing support for gun control and others distancing himself from some fellow Democrats who want to defund the police. 

“The Second Amendment from the day it was passed limited the type of people who could own a gun, and what type of weapon you could own,” Biden asserted. “You couldn’t buy a cannon.”

Biden went on to make a somewhat unclear reference to Thomas Jefferson’s famous “tree of liberty” quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

“Those who say … the blood of patriots—and you know—and all the stuff about how we’re going to have to move against the government, well, the tree of liberty is not watering the blood of patriots,” Biden said, with occasional pauses. “What’s happened is … if you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons. 

“The point is that there has always been the ability to limit, rationally limit, the type of weapon that could be owned and who could own it.”

Joined in the White House State Dining Room by Attorney General Merrick Garland, Biden discussed new multijurisdictional firearms-trafficking strike forces to stop illegal gun trafficking across state lines. 

The strike forces will be in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C., cities that have seen some of the largest upticks in violent crime. 

According to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, homicides rose 30% in 2020 from the previous year. Further, homicides in the first quarter of 2021 were 24% higher than in the first quarter of 2020 and 49% higher than in the first quarter of 2019. Gun assaults increased by 8% in large cities last year.

“An effective violent crime-reduction strategy must also address the illegal trafficking of firearms and focus on keeping guns out of the wrong hands,” Garland said. 

Biden referenced his long history in the Senate of pushing for gun control laws

“I’ve been at this a long time. There are things we know that work to reduce gun violence and violent crime,” he said. 

Biden said much of the economic stimulus plan funding, passed earlier this year, would go to boosting state and local law enforcement budgets. 

Biden also talked about increasing resources for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or the ATF, to hold firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws. 

The ATF will attempt to revoke the licenses of gun dealers the first time they transfer a gun to a prohibited person; if they fail to run a required background check; if they falsify records, such as a firearms transaction form; or if they fail to respond to an ATF tracing request, or refuse to permit the ATF to conduct an inspection in violation of the law. That’s what Biden called a “zero tolerance” policy for rogue gun dealers. 

Moreover, the ATF in some cases will embed with local homicide units to expand its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network Correlation and Training Center, the system that matches ballistics from crime scenes to other ballistic evidence nationwide.

A group of mayors and local law enforcement officials participated in Wednesday’s event. 

“[People] argue, ‘Why do you need gun laws if they don’t work in cities that have tough laws?’ Don’t believe that,” Biden said. “Mayors have the power to shape the laws in their cities, but they can’t control the laws in neighboring cities and even if a gun legally bought there often ends up in their streets.” 

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.