The White House is weighing whether to issue a number of gun safety measures through executive action even as they publicly press Congress to move ahead on legislation aimed at curbing violence.
The executive actions could include requiring background checks on sales of so-called “ghost guns” and other measures, Biden administration officials tell CNN. The policy considerations come amid a renewed national focused on gun control following a pair of mass shootings in the US.
“Ghost guns” are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers. The action would officially classify them as firearms, therefore requiring a background check, according to administration officials.
The administration is also considering action in other areas, including to alert law enforcement agencies when someone fails a federal background check. Gun control advocates say background check alerts could potentially flag troubled or criminal individuals who are trying to access weapons.
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The advocates have also pressed the White House to expand the Obama-era definition of what “in the business” of selling guns means, which is the current statutory definition of who requires a license and must conduct background checks.
The considerations come amid mounting pressure on President Joe Biden to act in the wake of two mass killings about a week apart, totaling 18 dead.
While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.
Gun safety advocates say that the Biden administration can take action almost immediately to address several of these issues.
“President Biden could take executive action today. He could strengthen the background check system. He could regulate ghost guns. He could dramatically increase funding to community violence intervention programs. And that is exactly what he should do,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.
But administration officials appear reluctant to put too much of an emphasis on potential executive action that may move forward, with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris putting the onus on Congress.
On Tuesday, White House officials said Biden was prepared to use executive action to advance stricter gun rules. The President used the bully pulpit in a speech on Tuesday to push Congress to move forward with a pair of House-passed gun reforms in the wake of a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, but he stopped short of committing to any executive action.
And Wednesday morning, Harris downplayed the prospect of taking executive action – something she ardently argued for on the campaign trail – suggesting it was up to Congress to act first.
“We should first expect the US Congress to act,” Harris told “CBS This Morning.” “I don’t think the President is excluding (executive action), but again, I want to be clear, that if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that the administration views executive action as one option among many.
“The vice president touched on the fact that we want something to be permanent. If we want it to be lasting, we need to do legislation, (Biden) certainly believes that, but there are also executive actions under consideration that we will continue working through internally. And there’s lots of levers, you can take, obviously, as president,” she said.
Inside the White House, efforts to devise executive actions are being led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond, administration officials and gun safety advocacy groups told CNN.
Richmond told CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Tuesday that the administration is researching the legality of implementing the gun-related policies through executive authority.
“All of our executive orders – we’re very careful to make sure that they’re constitutional and they’re legal,” Richmond said. “Our team … will look at all the options and put all the options on the table for the President to decide where he wants to go.”
Psaki said on Wednesday that analysis has “been ongoing for several weeks,” before the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.
CNN reported on Tuesday they had met with gun control advocacy groups over the first months of the administration to garner ideas and input on the best path forward. Richmond and Rice are continuing to consult with them, three of the groups initially involved told CNN.
“(They are) really looking at this issue in a comprehensive way,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We have had several follow up conversations with the White House as early as last week about the kinds of things that they have been looking at.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.