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In an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, public health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the current epidemic attacking the United States. No, not that one; the other one. “When you see people getting killed, in this last month it's just been horrifying what's happened. How can you say that's not a public health issue?" said Fauci when asked by host Dana Bash if gun violence was a public health emergency.
Fauci’s comments came days after a mass shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility left nine people dead, including the shooter, and only hours after a gunman opened fire outside of a bar in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing three and injuring two. Later on Sunday afternoon, a shooter in Austin, Texas opened fire and killed three civilians.
For those who are counting, that’s six innocent Americans dead within 24 hours in two separate shootings. It’s no wonder President Biden recently called America’s woefully predictable pattern of mass shootings “a national embarrassment” and urged Congress to take action.
Executive Action on Gun Control
At the same time, the President doesn’t appear to be holding his breath. After the shooting in Boulder, Colorado, he announced a series of executive orders meant to begin the process of tackling gun violence in America. One of the most significant orders calls for a two-month review of homemade “ghost guns” which experts say will likely lead to a ban. Ghost guns are handmade fireguns that can either be assembled from a kit or 3-D printed. Because they don’t come with a serial number, the federal government has no way to trace them.
Another important order deals directly with a weapon accessory used by the Boulder shooter known as a pistol-stabilizing brace. Stabilizers effectively turn a standard pistol into a deadlier and more accurate short-barreled rifle. Biden’s order will require pistols with stabilizers to be registered with the federal government and force buyers to go through a more rigorous application process. “There’s no reason someone needs a weapon of war with 100 rounds, 100 bullets, that can be fired from that weapon,” Biden said while discussing the executive orders last Thursday. “Nobody needs that.”
The president also announced his intentions to strengthen the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency in charge of enforcing federal gun laws, by nominating gun control advocate, David Chapman, to lead it. The notoriously beleaguered agency hasn’t had a director since 2015. If confirmed by the Senate, Chapman would be a reliable partner who Biden could count on to enforce new gun control legislation.
These steps, though narrow in scope, indicate that Biden is willing to bypass Congress if and when it fails to take action.
Legislative Action on Gun Control
For the most part, executive orders can only be used to direct current legislation. They cannot create it. For better or worse, the power of lawmaking belongs to Congress. That’s why the NRA and the gun lobby have poured billions of dollars into congressional races for decades. But with the NRA now bankrupt and the Democrats in control of Congress, some lawmakers sense a renewed opportunity to pass meaningful gun control legislation. In fact, the House of Representatives has already voted in favor of two significant bills.
The first measure expands background checks to include those purchasing weapons over the internet and at gun shows. Currently, neither type of purchase requires vetting. In-store purchases, which account for the majority of gun sales, require a routine background check. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the legislation.
The second bill grants authorities 10 business days to complete federal background checks before a gun sale must be licensed. Currently, sales can proceed if the government fails to complete a background check of a prospective buyer within three days. Only two Republicans voted for the legislation.
Gettings bills passed in the House is the easy part. The real hurdle is the Senate. That’s where gun control legislation has historically fallen apart. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said this time will be different and vowed to bring the bills to a vote.
For the bills to pass in their current form, Sen. Schumer would have to secure 10 votes from Republican senators and also convince Sen. Manchin (D-WV) to vote for them. There’s virtually no chance of that happening. Sen. Manchin already told reporters he opposes the legislation. That means for any legislation to make its way to President Biden’s desk for signing, congress will have to engage in a process they’re criminally bad at: negotiation.
For what it’s worth, minority leader Mitch McConnell said he was open to the discussion of gun control but opposed the House legislation. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of Americans support stricter gun laws and over 80 percent support universal background checks. All of this begs the question: What kind of reforms are Republicans open to and how many more Americans must die before they finally propose a solution?
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