WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is trying to curb “ghost guns” and make it easier for people to signal family members who should not be allowed to buy firearms with a series of executive actions taken Thursday after the recent mass shootings.
Efforts to find a bipartisan agreement on popular arms control measures have stalled, even as lawmakers have expressed openness to provisions such as tightening checks on the past.
Biden’s actions are limited and are still likely to face legal opposition from arms defenders, who see any effort to restrict access as a violation of the Second Amendment.
The changes come after the shootings in Georgia and Colorado and focus not only on trying to curb mass shootings, but also on reducing other forms of gun violence, such as suicide and domestic violence, Biden said.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and an international embarrassment,”
Biden also announced that he has nominated David Chipman, an arms control advocate, as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the ATF.
The White House described in detail the planned enforcement actions, arguing that Biden’s instructions to the Department of Justice would restrict access to weapons.
Biden has ordered the DOJ to write rules that will reduce the proliferation of “ghost weapons,” homemade firearms, often made from parts purchased online that have no traceable serial numbers. Biden said he wanted the kits and parts used to make weapons to be treated as firearms, where the parts have serial numbers and are subject to background checks.
Bide also seeks to reduce access to stabilizing brackets, which can effectively turn a pistol into a more lethal rifle, while not complying with the same provisions as similar-sized rifles. Biden said the alleged shooter in Boulder appears to have used one of these devices.
Finally, he asked the Ministry of Justice to publish samples of “red flag” laws for states to use as guidelines. Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition state courts to temporarily block people from obtaining firearms if they pose a danger to themselves or others. Biden said states with such red flag laws have seen a reduction in suicides.
Biden ordered the DOJ to issue a report on firearms trafficking, which has not been done since 2000. It will also announce support for programs aimed at “reducing gun violence in urban communities through tools other than imprisonment.” , according to a shared White House fact sheet.
Biden faces pressure from Democrats and gun control activists to take immediate action to tackle gun violence following the shootings in Georgia, Colorado and California. Democrats in parliament have passed gun control legislation, but there is not enough support even among Democrats in the Senate to introduce the bill.
“The idea is just weird to suggest that some of the things we recommend go against the Constitution,” Biden said.
Arms control activists also criticize Biden for failing to make arms control legislation an early priority for his administration, as he promised to do during his presidential campaign.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, administration officials stressed that Thursday’s actions were only the first step and that Biden would continue to seek legislative solutions to gun violence.
“This is an initial set of actions to make progress on President Biden’s violence reduction program,” one official said. “The administration will carry out both legislative and executive action. You will continue to hear the call of the President of Congress to pass legislation to reduce violence against weapons.”
Yet it is unclear how much political capital Biden is willing to invest to pass a Capitol Hill Arms Control Act, where Republicans remain firmly opposed to Democrats’ proposals, especially as he focuses on adopting his U.S. plan to work and while he continues to deal with the pandemic.
“It’s the job of every president to protect the American people, whether Congress acts or not,” Biden said. “I will use all the resources I have to protect the American people from gun violence. But Congress can do much more to help those efforts.”
Biden has asked Congress to pass legislation already through the Chamber to tighten inspections and re-enact the law on violence against women. He reiterated his call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and lifted the liability protection of arms manufacturers.
At a news conference late last month, Biden said he focused on other legislative priorities, such as his infrastructure plan.
“It’s only a matter of time,” he said when asked about gun control legislation. “As you have all noticed, successful presidents, better than me, have been largely successful because they know how to set the time they do, to schedule it, to set priorities, what needs to be done.”