Calling gun violence in America an “epidemic” and a “public health crisis,” President Joe Biden on Thursday announced six immediate actions the federal government is taking.
What You Need To Know
- President Joe Biden unveiled six executive actions aimed at addressing gun violence on Thursday
- Biden ordered the Department of Justice to propose rules on ghost guns, red flag laws, and regulating stabilizing braces
- The president will also nominate David Chipman, a former federal agent and adviser at the gun control group Giffords, to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- Biden also called on the Senate to pass three bills that have cleared the House
While the White House has repeatedly emphasized the need for Congress to take legislative action on guns, Biden has faced increasing pressure to act after a spate of mass shootings across the U.S. in recent weeks.
The executive orders include:
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) proposing a rule to stop the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns” within 30 days
- The DOJ proposing a rule to classify stabilizing braces for pistols as subject to the National Firearms Act within 60 days
- The DOJ conducting a review and providing models of possible red-flag legislation to state and local lawmakers within 60 days
- The DOJ conducting a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking in the United States
- The federal government investing more than $1 billion in evidence-based community violence intervention programs
- Biden nominating David Chipman to serve as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic,” Biden said during a speech at the White House Rose Garden. “And it's an international embarrassment.”
Thursday’s mandates from the White House are only the beginning. Biden also called on the Senate to pass three bills that have cleared the House. One would close loopholes for background checks at gun shows and online; another would close the so-called “Charleston loophole” and would give the FBI more time to conduct background checks before a gun is sold; and a third would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which would make it illegal for anyone found by a court to be a domestic abuser and a continued threat to possess a gun.
The president also called on Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and to end the shielding from lawsuits for gun manufacturers.
“There's no reason someone needs a weapon of a war with 100 rounds — 100 bullets — that can be fired from that weapon,” Biden said. “Nobody needs that.”
As for the immunity for the gun industry, Biden said: “If I get one thing on my list, the Lord came down and said, ‘Joe, you get one of these’? Give me that one.”
Any gun control measure, however, faces slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans stand opposed to most proposals.
“I've said before my job, the job of any president, is to protect the American people,” Biden said. “Whether Congress acts or not, I'm going to use all the resources at my disposal as president to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there's much more the Congress can do to help that effort, and they can do it right now.
“They've offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers. Time for some action.”
Biden sought to counter the argument by guns rights advocates that his proposals infringe upon the Second Amendment.
“They're phony arguments suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake from what we're talking about,” he said. “But no amendment, no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded movie theater. We call it freedom of speech. In the very beginning, you couldn't own any weapon you wanted to own.”
Biden is tightening regulations of buyers of “ghost guns” — homemade firearms that usually are assembled from parts and milled with a metal-cutting machine and often lack serial numbers used to trace them. It’s legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check.
The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule requiring such gun kits be treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act, which would require that the parts be made with serial numbers and that buyers receive background checks.
“Anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and as little as 30 minutes put together a weapon,” the president said.
A second proposed rule, expected within 60 days, will tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces, like the one used by the Boulder, Colorado, shooter in a rampage last month that left 10 dead. The rule will designate pistols used with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles, which require a federal license to own and are subject to a more thorough application process and a $200 tax.
The department also is publishing model legislation within 60 days that is intended to make it easier for states to adopt their own “red flag” laws. Such laws allow for individuals to petition a court to allow the police to confiscate weapons from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
The department also will begin to provide more data on firearms trafficking, starting with a new comprehensive report on the issue. The administration says that hasn’t been done in more than two decades.
The Biden administration will also make investments in community violence intervention programs, which are aimed at reducing gun violence in urban communities, across five federal agencies.
Biden argued that gun violence was also a massive economic strain, citing the costs from hospital visits, legal fees, and the cost of keeping people in prison and providing therapy to victims and others. A majority of firearm deaths are from suicides.
Biden’s nomination of Chipman to head the ATF may signal a more forceful position on gun control from the White House. Should his nomination be approved, Chipman – a longtime gun control advocate and former federal agent – will be the agency’s first permanent director since 2015.
The bureau falls under the purview of the Department of Justice, and as of 2019 had over 5,000 employees with an operational budget of $1.317 billion.
Should he be confirmed, Chipman would oversee the special agents and investigators tasked with preventing federal crimes, including the unlawful possession of firearms and explosives; tax evasion relating to alcohol and tobacco products; acts of arson; and the illegal sale of certain commercial goods.
Chipman himself is a veteran of the agency, having served for 25 years as a special agent working on firearms trafficking cases, preventing gun homicides, and more.
“Vice president [Kamala] Harris and I believe he's the right person at this moment for this important agency,” Biden said.
A senior administration official said there is “no one better to lead ATF right now,” citing his work with investigations into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. “He will help the federal government better enforce our gun laws, while respecting the Second Amendment.”
Chipman currently serves as the senior policy adviser at Giffords, a gun control group advocacy group led by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was in attendance at Thursday’s speech.
According to a biography on the Giffords foundation site, one of Chipman’s areas of expertise is in ghost guns.
Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose agency crafted the orders announced Thursday, also spoke at Thursday’s event.
“Time and again, as progress [on gun reform] has stalled, we've all asked, ‘What are we waiting for?’” the vice president said. “Because we aren't waiting for a tragedy. I know that we've had more tragedy than we can bear. We aren't waiting for solutions either. Because the solutions exist.”
Garland echoed that sentiment.
“We stand here today not at a moment of tragedy, but in the midst of an enduring tragedy,” Garland said, adding that about 11,000 people in the U.S. have died from gun violence in 2021.
The speech was attended by some members of Congress, gun rights advocates, families of students killed in school shootings and survivors of gun violence
During his campaign, Biden promised to prioritize new gun control measures as president, including enacting universal background check legislation, banning online sales of firearms and the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But gun-control advocates have said that while they were heartened by signs from the White House that they took the issue seriously, they’ve been disappointed by the lack of early action.
Biden himself expressed uncertainty late last month when asked if he had the political capital to pass new gun control proposals, telling reporters, “I haven’t done any counting yet.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month, however, that executive actions on guns were coming as well, calling them “one of the levers that we can use” to address gun violence.
For years, federal officials have been sounding the alarm about an increasing black market for homemade, military-style semi-automatic rifles and handguns. Ghost guns have increasingly turned up at crime scenes and in recent years have been turning up more and more when federal agents are purchasing guns in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.
It is hard to say how many are circulating on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments don’t even contact the federal government about the guns because they can’t be traced.
Some states, like California, have enacted laws in recent years to require serial numbers be stamped on ghost guns.
The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an “80-percent receiver” — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.
A gunman who killed his wife and four others in Northern California in 2017 who had been prohibited from owning firearms built his own to skirt the court order before his rampage. And in 2019, a teenager used a homemade handgun to fatally shoot two classmates and wound three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.