President Joe Biden announced a slew of executive actions on Thursday that would address gun violence in the United States, an issue he dubbed “an international embarrassment,” and called on Congress to thrash out other gun control legislation.
Biden labeled the issue an “epidemic” in a speech at the White House Rose Garden, following several deadly mass shootings in South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado and California over the last three weeks.
“This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop,” Biden said.
The most significant of the actions directs the Justice Department to form a model addressing the spread of “ghost guns,” which can be purchased without background checks and assembled at home from pieces with no serial numbers. The rule would officially identify them as firearms, which would force a background check upon purchase.
The president will also require that when devices marketed as a stabilizing brace effectively turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, the weapon would be subjected to additional regulations. The suspect behind the Boulder, Colo. shooting reportedly used a pistol that included an arm brace, making each shot more stable and accurate, the president said.
Biden also said that the Justice Department would draft a template for states to use to write “red flag” legislation that would permit family members or law enforcement officers to ask the court to temporarily ban access to firearms from people who may present danger to themselves or others. The purpose of the guidance is to make it easier for states to adopt such legislation, since Biden cannot pass federal-level “red flag” legislation.
“Red flag laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans,” Biden said.
But some experts suggested that the “red flag” law guidance may have little impact on taming gun accessibility and control.
“The model and support for states to pass ‘red flag’ laws may lead to a reduction [in] gun violence, although there is insufficient empirical research due to the limited availability of data and information,” Janice Iwama, an assistant professor of justice, law and criminology at American University, said.
And other experts noted that Biden’s executive actions will “fail to have any real impact on gun violence.”
“These executive actions will fail to have any real impact on gun violence, but are likely to turn many otherwise law-abiding Americans into felons if they fail to go through a complicated and expensive NFA registration process,” Amy Swearer, a legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, said.
The administration is also expected to boost investment toward community violence intervention programs, which can be used as tools “without turning to incarceration,” officials said. Some major cities across America, like New York City, have faced a surge in crime and homicides during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is just a start,” Biden said, urging Congress to take action. “We have a lot of work to do.”
But the president will likely be disappointed in his congressional colleagues, since momentum on gun control-related legislation has repeatedly crumbled on Capitol Hill, despite the increase in mass shootings across the United States. For instance, Congress failed to act following the Sandy Hook shooting, when Biden served as vice president.
The House passed two gun control bills last month, but they are likely to face rejection in the Senate, since both measures require the support of at least ten Republicans.
“There’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort, and they can do it right now,” Biden said.
“They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress. But they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence,” he added.
Iwama noted, however, that it’s “unlikely” gun prevention bills will see success in Congress.
“It is unlikely that Congress will pass gun control related legislation due to the lack of a majority support for it,” Iwama said. “States are more likely to pass gun control legislation as seen in the past following previous high profile mass shootings like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting or the Parkland School shooting.”
But Congress could still hammer out gun prevention legislation, even in chambers with razor-thin margins, if the legislation targets “specific underlying problems” with gun related issues, according to Swearer.
“There are certainly opportunities for both sides to work together on expanding background checks to publicly advertised private intrastate sales and incentivizing states to enact red flag laws with robust due process protections,” Swearer said. “But if those policies are not narrowly tailored to address the specific underlying problems or they impose unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners, the odds of that legislation being passed drop dramatically in such an evenly split Senate.”
Biden also announced he would nominate David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau has not had a director since 2015.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.