WASHINGTON – Declaring U.S. gun violence an “epidemic” and “an international embarrassment,” President Biden outlined actions to regulate certain firearms and to try to prevent gun violence after a spate of mass shootings in recent weeks and pressure from advocates.
“This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop,” Biden said.
Biden made the announcements Thursday in the White House Rose Garden in front of an audience of lawmakers and advocates for stricter gun laws. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Vice President Harris also spoke.
- An effort to rein in the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, which can be assembled at home from kits and contain no serial numbers. Biden wants to require serial numbers on key parts and require buyers to have background checks.
- The Justice Department will issue an annual report on firearms trafficking, updating the last one from 2000.
- The Justice Department has been directed to draft rules regulating stabilizing braces that make AR-15 pistols, which are generally subject to fewer regulations than rifles, more stable and accurate. The suspect in last month’s Boulder, Colo., mass shooting that killed 10 people reportedly used such a brace.
- The Justice Department will draft a template for states to use to write “red flag” laws that enable law enforcement and family members to seek court orders to remove firearms from people determined to be a threat to themselves or others.
Biden also said he will nominate David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Chipman is a 25-year veteran of the ATF who worked on investigations of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Most recently he has been a senior policy adviser at Giffords, an advocacy group against gun violence founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting.
Giffords attended Thursday’s announcement, and after he spoke, Biden went up to her, and the two bumped elbows.
Prospects for Chipman’s confirmation in the narrowly divided Senate are uncertain. ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
Biden has been under pressure to act to curb gun violence after last month’s shootings in Boulder and at several Atlanta-area businesses that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent.
As a member of the Senate, Biden was in the forefront of passing measures regulating guns, including a ban on sales of assault-style weapons and the Brady law, which instituted a nationwide system of background checks.
But as president, Biden has been relatively cautious, calling on the Senate to pass House-approved measures expanding background checks and giving the FBI more time to process them, but he has been prioritizing other actions, such as a COVID-19 relief bill and his infrastructure and jobs plan.
Biden reiterated his call for the Senate to act on the House bills on Thursday, but it’s not clear the measures have a simple majority there, much less the 60 votes they would need to overcome a Republican filibuster. Biden said members of Congress have “offered plenty of thoughts and prayers” but have failed to pass any legislation.
“Enough prayers,” Biden said. “Time for some action.”
Susan Rice, Biden’s domestic policy adviser, told NPR’s Juana Summers that Thursday’s actions are “initial steps.”
“This is not the end of what this administration will do,” Rice said, “but we thought it was very important for the president to come out early, within the first 100 days of his administration, to make clear … that this remains a very significant priority for the administration.”
Fatimah Loren Dreier of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention was at the White House announcement Thursday. She praised Biden’s actions.
“He called out, forthright, that violence is a public health crisis and that it disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities,” she said. “He named that violence is the leading cause of death for Black boys and men, and the second leading cause of death for Latino boys and men. That matters. It’s important for the country to know that violence is a public health emergency and we need to see it as such.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who co-authored legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that sought to expand background checks after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, said that he appreciated Biden’s “expressed willingness” to work with lawmakers from both parties.
“If done in a manner that respects the rights of law-abiding citizens, I believe there is an opportunity to strengthen our background check system so that we are better able to keep guns away from those who have no legal right to them,” Toomey said.
Biden said none of his actions “impinges on the Second Amendment,” but gun rights advocates are likely to challenge the new restrictions in court.
Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said in a statement that Biden’s proposals “could require law-abiding citizens to surrender lawful property and enable states to expand gun confiscation orders. The NRA will fight this nomination and ill-conceived executive actions.”