NEW YORK CITY — President Biden blamed lax gun ownership laws Thursday for the crime wave hitting New York City and other communities, insisting that Second Amendment rights were never meant to be absolute but saying nothing about the progressive crime policies of new District Attorney Alvin Bragg that many here blame for the surge of violence in the city.
In a meeting with new New York Mayor Eric Adams and other Democratic officials, Mr. Biden criticized the “resistance” to gun control measures by Republicans in Congress, state legislatures, gun manufacturers and other gun-rights advocates as the primary culprit for the rising violence of the past two years.
The president called for universal background checks, a crackdown on so-called “ghost guns” and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, saying of the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms that “there’s no amendment that’s absolute.”
“When the [Second Amendment] was passed, it didn’t say anybody can own a gun,” Mr. Biden said. “When the amendment was passed, … you couldn’t buy a cannon … and so there’s no reason why you should be able to buy certain assault weapons.”
He pointed to the shooting deaths of two New York police officers, Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, during a domestic disturbance call in Harlem on Jan. 21. Mr. Biden said the gunman had a stolen firearm with a 40-round magazine capacity.
“It’s really a weapon of war,” the president said. “Enough is enough. I don’t see any rationale why there should be such a weapon able to be purchased. That doesn’t violate anybody’s Second Amendment rights to deny that.”
Six New York police officers have been shot so far this year. During the funeral for Mr. Rivera last week, his widow called out Mr. Bragg’s policies of decriminalizing many serious offenses, which police say has contributed to a crime wave.
“We are not safe anymore,” she said.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Mr. Biden shares the blame for the Democrats’ “defund-the-police” rhetoric of the past two years, although he criticized that phrase during his presidential run.
“Joe Biden and Democrats’ soft-on-crime policies have emboldened criminals in Democrat-run cities across the country,” she said. “Americans are less safe because of Democrats’ failed leadership, and until Joe Biden condemns dangerous policies and anti-police rhetoric from Democrats like Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, he is complicit in the crime surges across the country.”
Mr. Adams, a former New York City policeman himself, praised the president for his visit, saying the city needs “a 9/11-type response to address the domestic terror that is pervasive in this city and this country.”
“The president is here because he knows what the American people want — justice, safety and prosperity,” the mayor said.
Mr. Biden is calling on Congress to spend $300 million for community policing and $200 million on violence intervention programs. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department is launching an initiative to deter so-called “ghost guns,” unregulated weapons that can be bought and assembled without a background check.
In his visit to One Police Plaza, the president led a standing ovation for the rookie New York City officer who shot and killed the gunman in the deadly ambush of Officers Rivera and Mora.
“Detectives Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera are the who and what law enforcement ought to be,” Mr. Biden said. “Their futures were cut short by a man with a stolen Glock and a 40-round magazine, and I want to thank the man back to my left, I think he’s sitting right there, for taking him on.”
“Stand up,” the president said, motioning to Officer Sumit Sulan, 27.
Officer Sulan fatally shot career criminal Lashawn McNeil during the incident in Harlem.