Biden bypasses Congress as he tries to tamp down gun violence
President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at expanding background checks during his visit Tuesday to Monterey Park, Calif., where 11 people were gunned down in January.
The White House said the move will get “the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible” without legislation, as Congress remains gridlocked on the issue. Gun safety advocates have pushed administration officials on this front for months.
The executive action directs Attorney General Merrick Garland to address a background check loophole by clarifying the definition of “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed last summer updated federal law, requiring anyone who sells guns for profit to be licensed and conduct background checks on buyers. By clarifying who qualifies as a gun dealer, the federal law will require a greater number of sellers to conduct background checks on prospective buyers.
Biden’s latest gun policy rollout, which he announced at the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley, comes amid a deadly year. Almost four months into 2023, there have been 109 mass shootings in which four or more people were injured or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive. As the violence continues even after the passage of the first gun legislation in 30 years, major gun safety groups have pleaded with Biden to act alone as Congress appears unlikely to reach further compromise on the issue.
“These are not controversial solutions anywhere except for in Washington, D.C., in Congress,” a senior administration official said Monday night, briefing reporters ahead of Biden's speech. “The majority of kitchen tables across the country — they support universal background checks. And the action the president is proposing — to move closer to universal background checks — is just common sense.”
The president’s executive order also called for his administration to speed up the implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Within 60 days, every agency involved in the legislation’s rollout will be required to send Biden a report outlining progress and additional steps needed to push the law forward.
The executive order also directed members of Biden’s Cabinet to focus on raising public awareness of red flag laws and safe storage of guns and to address the loss and theft of firearms, the official said. The president also took additional steps aimed at holding gun manufacturers accountable, including by encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to analyze and report how gun manufacturers market firearms to minors.
Just as the Federal Emergency Management Agency responds during a hurricane, Biden asked members of his Cabinet to coordinate a response plan to address short and long-term needs in communities struck by mass shootings.
“He is directing key members of his Cabinet to develop a proposal for how we can structure the government to do a better job supporting those impacted by gun violence,” the administration official told reporters.
Biden also used Tuesday’s address to re-up his calls for Congress to take further action on guns, including his futile push for an assault weapons ban.