The recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed, and in Buffalo, N.Y., where 10 people were killed, have renewed calls for gun control laws at the federal level.
President Biden has acknowledged that there is little he can do in terms of executive action without the support of Congress. “There is a Constitution. I can’t dictate this stuff,” he told reporters at the White House on May 30.
Days later, in a primetime address, Biden demanded that Congress take action on stronger gun measures that included: a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; raising the age for buying assault rifles from 18 to 21; strengthening background checks; and enacting federal red flag laws intended to keep firearms out of the hands of those considered likely to harm themselves or others.
On Sunday, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced an agreement on a framework for gun safety legislation — one that has the support of 10 Republican senators, which would be enough to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The proposal includes: helping states adopt red flag laws; closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which allows those who commit domestic abuse but are not married to their partners to acquire guns; expanding background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and improving enforcement of gun-trafficking laws.
If it passes, it would be the first major legislative agreement on gun control in nearly 30 years. In 1994, under the Clinton administration, then-Sen. Joe Biden was instrumental in securing the passage of a 10-year assault weapons ban — which was not renewed under the Bush administration.
The legislative text for the bipartisan proposal has yet to be written and must pass the House before it gets sent to President Biden’s desk.
Kris Brown, president of Brady United, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, told Yahoo News that there is more Biden can do if Congress ultimately fails to act. (Some of the responses below have been edited for clarity and length.)
Yahoo News: What can Biden do as president without Congress to take action on gun control?
1. Declare gun violence a public health epidemic.
Kris Brown: We lose about 45,000 Americans a year to gun violence, and gun violence now is the No. 1 killer of children in this country. More than automobile accidents, more than poisonings, more than unintentional injuries from any other cause. So it's right to declare it a public health epidemic. And what that does, it frees up funding, and it provides a coordinated approach through federal agencies to really tackle this comprehensively.
2. Redefine what a gun dealer is.
Brown: [Biden] can issue executive actions that really define [and clarify] what it is to be in the business of selling guns, and basically require anyone who sells more than five guns to be declared a gun dealer. That's very important, because right now, 1 in 5 guns sold today is sold with no background check at all. So the administration can do a lot to really crack down on that. We'd prefer Congress to act, but we want him to take action to bolster those efforts.
3. Establish a White House office of gun violence prevention.
Brown: We also want an office of gun violence prevention out of the White House. While we applaud and appreciate everything that the office of domestic policy, led by Susan Rice, who currently handles the administration’s efforts on gun violence prevention [has done], this crisis, this epidemic, deserves a coordinated approach and a coordinated office whose full-time job is understanding all of the levers that must be put in place to save children's lives in this country. It's that important. And we need to put that muscle behind it.
4. Direct the Justice Department to take action on illegal firearm sales.
Brown: The fourth is that we need the Department of Justice to really comprehensively crack down on the suppliers of "crime guns" in the United States and start increasing prosecution of those who are putting the [illegally obtained] guns on the criminal market. [A "crime gun" refers to a gun that has been recovered by law enforcement that may have been used in a crime, or a gun whose possession may itself have been a crime.] We have had very little prosecution until President Biden took office, but we need even more of a focus by U.S. attorneys across this country to crack down on the criminal market, because that is driving homicide increases all across this country. [Attorney General Merrick Garland announced recently that the Justice Department is cracking down on illegal firearms trafficking.]