Wednesday, March 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Biden Takes Executive Action Aimed at Curbing Gun Violence

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden outlined several executive directives Thursday that his administration will take to curb American gun violence.

“Let me say it again, gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it’s an international embarrassment,” Biden said in remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

Ahead of Thursday's speech, the White House announced that the Justice Department would propose, within 30 days, federal rules for so-called ghost guns, firearms that can be assembled at home and are untraceable because they have no serial number. Within 60 days, the Justice Department will also propose federal rules for clearly labeling stabilizing braces that can transform pistols into short-barreled rifles, like the weapon used to kill 10 in Colorado last month.

Alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland, the president outlined the importance of labeling those brace devices that can increase a handgun's lethality.

“I want to be clear that these modifications to firearms that make them more lethal should be subject to the National Firearms Act,” Biden said. “The National Firearms Act requires that a potential owner pay a $200 fee and submit their name and other identifying information to the Justice Department, just like they would if they went out and purchased a silencer for a gun.”

A federal model that states can follow for red-flag legislation – which allows courts to issue orders confiscating weapons from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others – will also be released by the DOJ within 60 days. In addition, the department will start issuing annual reports on firearms trafficking, modeled on a 2000 report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

Garland outlined the importance of understanding and measuring problems with trafficking weapons in the U.S., in a data-driven way like the ATF’s report. The updated study to be conducted at Garland’s direction will include a look at guns made of plastic, 3-D printed or sold in a self-assembly kit and their circulation throughout the country.

“We will evaluate how some of our best tools including the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and the National Tracing Center are keeping up with the times,” Garland said. “And we will analyze our criminal cases and investigations to determine what they can show us about modern gun-trafficking patterns.”

David Chipman, a 25-year veteran with the ATF who retired in 2012 and went on to work as a senior policy adviser for the gun control group Giffords will be nominated to lead the agency. Its current head, Regina Lombardo, is serving in an acting capacity. The ATF has not confirmed a permanent director since 2015.

From the Rose Garden on Thursday, Biden said Chipman knew the agency well.

“And Vice President Harris and I believe he’s the right person at this moment, for this important agency,” the president said.  

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, right, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, second from right, departs after speaking about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The House passed a bill last month requiring background checks for all Americans purchasing a firearm or transferring ownership through a Federal Firearms License. Another bill expanding 10-day waiting periods for guns also passed the House in March, with both bills mirroring legislation passed in 2019 that never received a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Whether Congress acts or not, Biden said, all executive resources would be directed at curbing gun violence, but he said there is much more lawmakers can do to help the fight. He urged the Senate to immediately pass the House bills to patch loopholes like Charleston, South Carolina's waiting-period exemption, which bypasses a background check if the FBI doesn’t complete a screen within three days.

The president said Congress also should act to close the gun-show loophole, which lets American purchase weapons at gun shows without a background check.

“They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence,” Biden said. “Enough prayers, time for some action.”

Noted that every day in America, an average of 316 people are shot and 106 of those people succumb to their injuries. In the week between last month’s attack in Colorado and another in Georgia that killed eight in a spree targeting women of Asian descent, there were more than 850 other shootings that took 250 lives and left 500 injured.

Harris looked back on her time examining gun violence and its communal impacts as California's attorney general, recalling holding the hands of parents who have lost a child to gun violence and studying autopsy photos. The vice president also noted Biden’s work as a Delaware U.S. senator to help pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, which she said established a background check system that kept more than 3 million guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

“A year later he worked to pass another law to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines for 10 years,” Harris said. “And as vice president, Joe Biden led the Obama-Biden administration’s efforts to reduce gun violence.”

The Rose Garden audience Thursday included staunch gun violence prevention advocates like Gabriel Giffords, who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in 2011, and Georgia Congresswoman Lucy McBath, whose 17-year-old son Jordan was shot and killed the day after Thanksgiving in 2012.

Biden made a point to thank those gathered for reliving the trauma they experienced from gun violence as they fight to make the country safer.

“You know, they know what it’s like when the seconds change your life forever,” he said. “I’ve had the pleasure of getting to meet under awful circumstances many of you, many of you who have lost your children, your husbands, your wives. They know what it’s like to bury a piece of their soul deep in the earth.”

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.