Amid the recent spike in gun violence, President Joe Biden took executive action on gun reform Thursday, including imposing new restrictions on gun modification and appointing an anti-gun advocate to head the Bureau on Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ( ATF).
Biden’s actions are significant, but they only deal with a very small part of America’s vast arms problem. Instead, they represent an effort by the White House to use the President’s limited tools to make some progress along the road to reform, given the difficulty in Congress passing new gun laws.
As Vox’s German Lopez explained, part of the problem is that the US has a lot of guns – more than 120 per 100 people – and those guns are used: the US has about 16 times as many gun murders per 1 million people as it does Germany and there will be an average of one mass shooting (defined as an event in which there are at least four victims, including the shooter) per day.
These mass shootings have been particularly prominent recently. Five people were killed in a shooting Wednesday in Rock Hill, South Carolina, two people were killed and two others were injured in Milwaukee. Those violent incidents follow dozens of others over the past month, including mass shootings at Asian spas in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. Less than a week later, 10 people were killed in a shooting in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.
Biden’s executive actions are aimed directly at one of these shootings. The bouldering shooter used a pistol modification known as a stabilizing strut which aided accuracy and minimized rearward impact. Under the new regulations, guns with braces must be registered with the federal government and require a more detailed application process.
“There’s no reason anyone needs a 100-round, 100-round weapon of war that can be fired from that weapon,” Biden said as he announced the executive branch’s instructions on Thursday. “Nobody needs that.”
However, the new orders will not affect sales of assault weapons like the ones used in Atlanta and the Dayton shootings in 2019, nor will they fill any gaps that allow buyers to evade background checks online or at gun exhibits. This is noteworthy in that one-fifth of all guns sold to buyers do not require a background check, according to Giffords Law Center, a national gun control and restrictions attorney.
There are currently bills in place that would fill this loophole that have passed the House of Representatives and are awaiting a Senate vote. Given that the Democrats, who largely support arms reform, don’t have the numbers, there seems little chance they will die.
Congress, stagnating on gun reforms, is noteworthy as the public is changing gun policy in public: polls by Giffords and Everytown, another gun control advocacy group, found that 93 percent of Americans, including 64 percent of Republicans, have a Background review, advocate all arms sales. While the country, largely united in its support for arms legislation, waits for a stagnant Congress to pass significant reforms, Biden has now acted unilaterally – his reforms are not comprehensive, but they are in his power.
What’s in Biden’s Gun Control Operations?
The president’s new policy seeks to do two things: limit the availability of certain weapons and encourage states to enact weapons control laws themselves. Biden implemented the following on Thursday:
Stop the sale of “Ghost Guns”: Ghost Guns are handcrafted firearms that are sold in kits or 3D printed. This means they don’t have a serial number and the government is unable to track them down. Biden wants to limit their use, stamp serial numbers on every part, and subject buyers to background checks.
New regulations for gun-stabilizing braces: Stabilizers can turn pistols into true short barrel rifles, weapons that are more accurate and deadly than a pistol. Biden wants to treat them as such. Pistols with stabilizer struts attached must now be registered and buyers must go through a far more thorough application process.
Encouraging red flag laws: Biden calls on the Justice Department to draft model laws to help states implement the so-called red flag laws. These laws would allow the courts to exclude persons from carrying weapons if they are deemed dangerous to themselves or others by family members or law enforcement agencies.
Federal studies on the arms trade: For the first time in 20 years, the ATF and the Ministry of Justice are tasked with publishing annual reports on the arms trade.
Investing in community violence intervention programs: Five federal agencies are instructed to support these programs. In the infrastructure proposal that Biden announced last week, he proposed $ 5 billion for community violence interventions, to be disbursed over the next eight years.
Biden also announced the appointment of David Chipman as head of the alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives bureau. Chipman was an agent with ATF for 25 years and is currently a consultant with Giffords.
The head of the ATF bureau has to be approved by the Senate – and it’s unclear whether a candidate who has joined an arms reform group like Giffords can get the votes required for approval. It is common for candidates to fight for ATF directors in the Senate: its last permanent director was B. Todd Jones, who was sustained in 2013 and stepped down in 2015. Since then, all directors have worked in an acting capacity.
If a major arms reform is imminent, it must be done through Congress
A president can only change arms policy so much without the support of Congress, and despite the pressure to pass new laws every time mass shootings occur, lawmakers have consistently failed to pass new laws.
Recently, the Democrat-controlled House passed two bills to change this. The first, HR 8, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), would force unlicensed and private sellers to run background checks on all personal purchases. As Vox’s Sean Collins explained:
Such a move would likely have an immediate impact on who can buy weapons. For example, Everytown recently conducted an analysis of arms sales conducted on the Armslist online portal and found that just over 10 percent of people who have successfully purchased arms in the market fail a background check submitted by a licensed seller would have passed. Overall, according to the gun control advocacy group, Giffords Law Center, 22 percent of all guns are sold without a background check.
HR 1446, sponsored by Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), would fill a loophole that would allow potential gun owners to bypass background checks that would take longer than three days to complete with the FBI. Instead, the FBI would have 10 days to do a background check, with the option to trigger an additional 10-day grace period.
Both bills have stalled in the Senate, with little chance of garnering the 60 votes required to bypass a GOP-led filibuster. And Democrats, who have 51 votes in the chamber, disagree on what kind of weapons reform is needed. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has stated that he will not vote for HR 8 in its current form.
“No, I don’t support what the House passed,” Manchin told CNN in March. “Not at all.”
Manchin and other relative centrists in Congress, such as Susan Collins (R-ME) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), instead support a more conservative bill that Toomey and Manchin penned after filming at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 Increase Do not use background checks, but not for the sale of private guns.
Biden ran for president with an ambitious gun control platform that included a ban on assault weapons and a weapons buyback program. The offensive weapon ban in particular now looks impossible, but he promised on Thursday that he won’t stop trying.
“Guys, this is just the beginning,” said Biden. “We have a lot to do.”