What Will Joe Biden’s Executive Action on Guns Look Like?
Gun control has long been a contentious issue in U.S. politics and the Democrats have long promised to take major action despite Republican opposition.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce new executive action on gun control on Thursday, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki didn’t offer details during her press briefing on Wednesday when she made the announcement, but noted that “the President will have more to say tomorrow.”
Biden’s sudden executive action was first reported by Politico, where sources told the outlet that the president would direct the administration to initiate the process of requiring background checks for those who purchase “ghost guns,” or handmade firearms that don’t have serial numbers. The action would officially identify them as firearms, which would force a background check upon purchase, according to administration officials.
The president will be joined by Attorney General Merrick Garland when he releases the orders.
Experts noted, however, that “ghost guns” represent “a very small proportion of all guns.”
“Ghost guns represent a very small proportion of all guns—guns made without serial numbers. Ghost guns have been used in crimes at an escalating rate, though, so they represent a narrowly focused but dangerous new development in guns connected to crimes,” Robert J. Spitzer, a distinguished service professor and political science chair at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of five books on gun policy, said. “And why would any law abiding gun owner want a gun with no serial numbers? This is one area where swift action is called for to stem the flow of ghost guns before they become a flood.”
The president will also direct the Justice Department to put new restrictions on devices marketed as a stabilizing brace, which creates more stability for the shooter, making it easier to hit their target, and would be subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act. The suspect behind the Boulder, Colo. shooting reportedly used a pistol that included an arm brace, “which can make a firearm more stable and accurate while still being concealable,” a senior administration official told USA Today.
Biden will also ask the Justice Department to draft a “red flag” legislation that can be passed at the state-level, a bill that would permit family members or law enforcement officers to ask officials to ban a person who may impose harm to themselves or others from getting firearms.
“Several elective orders are expected including more efforts at local violence prevention programs which have been stalled largely because of the pandemic, beefed up background checks [or] closing loopholes related to them, and regulating Semiauto pistols that actually resemble assault rifles, like the Ruger assault ‘pistol’ that was used by the Colorado shooter,” Spitzer said, referring to other gun control-related measures that the administration might enact. “Like executive orders generally, they can have important effects but cannot be as far reaching as regular legislation.”
The announcement comes as the Biden administration faces heated pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and gun reform advocates to take action following the three recent mass shootings in Boulder, Colo., Atlanta, Ga. and Orange, Calif.
Biden will also nominate David Chipman, an advocate of greater gun control, to serve as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), an agency that has not had a confirmed director since 2015.
“It’s important for ATF to finally have a director in place who has standing to use ATF resources to curtail trafficking and assist local police in combatting gun violence, as well as shut down scofflaw gun dealers,” Philip J. Cook, a professor emeritus of public policy at Duke University who has studied gun violence for years, said. “David Chipman is a strong choice.”
The executive actions that Biden will pursue on Thursday will act as his first major step on gun control measures after serving in the White House for nearly three months. But, with a highly polarized Congress, it’s unclear if the administration will have any success in passing legislation on the issue.
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.