WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is trying to limit “ghost guns” and make it easier for people to flag family members who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase firearms with a series of executive actions taken Thursday in the wake of recent mass shootings.
Efforts to find bipartisan agreement for popular gun control measures have fizzled, even as lawmakers expressed openness to provisions like tightening background checks.
The actions by Biden are limited and will still likely face legal opposition from gun rights advocates, who view any efforts to limit access as a violation of the Second Amendment.
The changes come in the wake of shootings in Georgia and Colorado and focus not just on trying to limit mass shootings, but also at reducing other forms of gun violence, like suicides and domestic violence, Biden said.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it is an international embarrassment,” Biden said in remarks he made in the Rose Garden. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland. A number of Democratic congressional members, gun control advocates and local officials also attended.
Biden also announced he is nominating David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
The White House detailed the planned executive actions, arguing that Biden’s instructions to the Department of Justice will curb access to guns.
Biden directed the DOJ to write rules that will reduce the proliferation of “ghost guns,” homemade firearms often made from parts bought online and that do not have traceable serial numbers. Biden said he wants kits and parts used to make guns to be treated as firearms where the parts have serial numbers and are subject to a background check.
Biden also sought to reduce access to stabilizing braces, which can effectively turn a pistol into a more lethal rifle while not being subject to the same regulations that a rifle of similar size would be. Biden said the alleged shooter in Boulder appears to have used one of these devices.
Finally, he asked the DOJ to publish model “red flag” laws for states to use as guides. Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement agencies to petition state courts to temporarily block people from obtaining firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. Biden said states with such red flag laws have seen a reduction in the number of suicides.
Biden directed the DOJ to issue a report on firearms trafficking, which hasn’t been done since 2000. He will also announce support for programs aimed at “reducing gun violence in urban communities through tools other than incarceration,” according to a fact sheet shared by the White House.
Biden has faced pressure from Democrats and gun control activists to take immediate action to address gun violence in the wake of shootings in Georgia, Colorado and California. House Democrats have passed gun control legislation, but there isn’t enough support even among Democrats in the Senate to advance that bill.
“The idea is just bizarre to suggest some of the things we are recommending is contrary to the Constitution,” Biden said.
Gun control activists have also criticized Biden for not making gun control legislation an early priority of his administration, as he promised to do during his campaign for president.
In a call with reporters Wednesday night, administration officials stressed that Thursday’s actions were just the first step and that Biden would still pursue legislative solutions to gun violence.
“This is an initial set of actions to make progress on President Biden’s gun violence reduction agenda,” one official said. “The administration will be pursuing legislative and executive actions at the same time. You will continue to hear the president call for Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence.”
Still, it is unclear just how much political capital Biden is willing to put into getting gun control legislation passed on Capitol Hill where Republicans remain staunchly opposed to Democrats’ proposals, especially as he turns his focus to getting his American Jobs Plan passed and as he continues to deal with the pandemic.
“The job of any president is to protect the American people, whether Congress acts or not,” Biden said. “I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort.”
Biden asked Congress to pass legislation already through the House to tightening background checks and reauthorized the Violence Against Women act. He also called again for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and removed liability protections for gun makers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she supports the actions taken today and urged the Senate to act on two bills passed by the House to strengthen background checks.
“The gun violence crisis demands immediate, effective and strong action – which is why, as House Speaker, I strongly support the gun violence prevention actions taken today by President Biden,” Pelosi said in a statement. “These steps will save lives: stopping the spread of so-called ‘ghost guns,’ helping ensure that dangerous people cannot access firearms and leading an evidence-based, whole-of-government initiative to reduce community violence.”
At a news conference late last month, Biden indicated that he was focused on other legislative priorities, such as his infrastructure plan.
“It’s a matter of timing,” he said, when asked about gun control legislation. “As you’ve all observed, successful presidents, better than me, have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing, order it, decide priorities, what needs to be done.”