Biden Readies Long-Awaited Executive Actions on Guns

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Scott Bixby
·3 min read
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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Joe Biden on Thursday will announce six executive actions intended to address the “epidemic” of gun violence in the United States, senior administration officials said on Wednesday evening, the administration’s first concrete steps to address an issue that Biden has wrestled with since his time in the U.S. Senate.

“We know that Americans are dying from gun violence, every single day in this country,” an official told reporters in a phone briefing previewing the executive actions. “That’s why we are pursuing an agenda that will address not only mass shootings, but also community violence that is proportionately affecting black and brown Americans, domestic violence, and suicide by firearm.”

The actions come as the slow return to normalcy in American life has brought with it a succession of mass-casualty shootings across the country, and as gun-control advocates have grown anxious that Biden’s focus on pandemic recovery could come at the expense of an issue that has languished without meaningful legislative action in Congress for decades.

The orders, according to administration officials who stressed that they are only “initial” reforms and will likely be followed by additional actions in the coming months, touch on a range of issues relating to gun purchases, the publication of “red flag” legislation as a roadmap for state-level action, and data collection regarding firearm trafficking, as well as some issues specifically relating to recent mass shootings, including requiring that guns requiring a stabilizing brace—like the one used in a supermarket shooting in Boulder last month—be subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act. The act requires such weapons to be registered with the federal government.

The actions also include ordering the Justice Department to draft a proposal to stop the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns,” which are assembled from kits and cannot be traced by law enforcement. That provision was first reported by Politico.

Finally, the president will announce his intention to nominate David Chipman to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Chipman, a former special agent at the bureau, is a senior adviser with the gun-control advocacy group founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was nearly killed in a 2011 shooting that claimed six lives.

‘He Shot Right at Us’: Gunman Kills 10 People, Including Cop, at Boulder Supermarket

“There’s no one better to lead ATF right now,” an administration official said. “He will help the federal government better enforce our gun laws, while respecting the Second Amendment.”

The actions come as Democrats have put increasingly public pressure on the White House to address gun violence in the United States. Last week, more than 100 House Democrats signed a letter calling on Biden to “take executive action” in order to better regulate assault-style rifles like those used in the Boulder shooting—which one of the orders will do.

“For too long, gun manufacturers in order to circumvent the National Firearms Act have designed and marketed concealable AR-15 style firearms which fire rifle rounds,” states the letter, authored by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Val Demings (D-FL) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). “Concealable assault-style firearms that fire rifle rounds pose an unreasonable threat to our communities and should be fully regulated under the National Firearms Act consistent with the intent and history of the law.”

But the actions also demonstrate the limitations of Biden’s ability to address gun violence to the degree that many advocates have long called for without the cooperation of Congress—particularly Chipman’s nomination. The ATF has not had a Senate-confirmed director since 2015, and the former special agent’s role as an outspoken supporter of gun reform makes the outlook for his confirmation murky in a closely divided Senate.

“The president will continue to reiterate his message, which is that we need Congress to act,” an administration official told reporters on Wednesday. “These are policies that are bipartisan with the American people—the vast majority of people support universal background checks, support other actions to reduce gun violence in this country. It is long, long past time for Congress to act.”

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