White House says Biden is prepared to issue executive orders on guns

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In the wake of two mass shootings in the U.S. in a single week, the White House said Friday that President Biden is prepared to issue executive orders to enact gun reform, circumventing the need for a divided Congress to pass legislation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing that she couldn’t offer an “exact time frame” on when those orders would move off Biden’s desk, but said they were “one of the levers that we can use ... to help address the prevalence of gun violence and address community safety around the country.”

Biden, however, made clear during his Thursday afternoon press conference that infrastructure rather than gun reform would be his next legislative priority, which led to complaints from gun control activists and progressive Democrats.

Psaki said Biden understands their frustration and suggested that their ire be directed toward those members of Congress who are voting to block gun control legislation.

Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“We would say that the frustration should be vented at the members of the House and Senate who voted against the measure the president supports,” Psaki said Friday.

The White House has yet to address whether Biden plans to send gun policy proposals of his own to Capitol Hill. He said earlier this week that he believes his administration can guide a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate to pass two gun reform bills kicked over from the House of Representatives, despite multiple failed attempts of previous administrations to get comprehensive laws on the books.

The bills passed by Democrats in the House would require background checks to be performed for all gun purchases and transfers and would close the so-called Charleston loophole, which in some instances allows gun sales without a completed background check.

Biden has urged the Senate to take “common sense steps,” encouraging Congress to pass a law banning assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines across the country. He helped shepherd the country’s prior assault-weapons ban while serving as a senator from Delaware in the 1990s. That ban, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, lasted for a decade until President George W. Bush let it expire. Biden believes a Democratic Congress can reinstate the ban and implement new measures — but the reluctance of some moderate members of the party could make that difficult.

Boulder residents
Boulder, Colo., residents at a candlelight vigil honoring the 10 people who were killed on Monday. (Paula Bronstein./Getty Images)

In 2013, a few months after 20 children were killed at their elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a bipartisan bill that required background checks on commercial gun transactions failed in the Senate. A more sweeping version of the provision also failed to make it off the floor in 2016, after a gunman killed 49 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Even now, after two back-to-back mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., Democrats may not have the numbers — or the Republican support — to pass the provisions. Despite co-sponsoring the 2013 background check legislation, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has already voiced opposition to the two House bills, instead pressing for the passage of his own version.


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