Biden to unveil long-awaited executive action on guns

Biden to unveil long-awaited executive action on gunsApril 7, 2021

President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a long-awaited package of executive actions to curb gun violence Thursday at the White House, according to four people familiar with the plan.

The announcement comes nearly three months into Biden’s term, a delay that had frustrated activists who wanted the president to fulfill a campaign pledge to take action on gun violence on his first day in office. That frustration only grew after a slate of mass shootings in Colorado, Georgia and California.

Biden will direct the administration to begin the process of requiring buyers of so-called ghost guns — homemade or makeshift firearms that lack serial numbers — to undergo background checks, according to three people who have spoken to the White House about the plans.

Other executive actions remain unclear. But advocates who have been in touch with the White House have speculated that the president could announce regulations on concealed assault-style firearms; prohibitions on firearm purchases for those convicted of domestic violence against their partners; alerts to law enforcement agencies when a potential buyer fails a background check; and federal guidance on home storage safety measures.

More than 100 House Democrats wrote to Biden last week, urging him to take action on the concealed assault-style firearms, which is similar to the one used in the Colorado shooting in which 10 people were killed.

One other announcement Biden could make on Thursday is the introduction of his nominee to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who will play a key role in any executive branch action on guns. David Chipman, a longtime former ATF agent who served as a senior policy advisor at Giffords, a group advocating for firearms restrictions, is one of the people being considered for the job, according to two people familiar with deliberations.

Biden’s nominee could be tough to get through a Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. The ATF has had mostly acting directors since the position became Senate-confirmed. Todd Jones was confirmed as ATF director in 2013 after a years-long stint as acting director.

Biden is expected to be joined at the White House Thursday by Attorney General Merrick Garland, members of Congress, groups pushing for firearms restrictions, community organizations and gun violence survivors. Several people planning to attend said in interviews that had not been briefed on what Biden actions would release.

Biden hasn’t just received criticism from the groups advocating for gun restrictions. A recent poll found that 57 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Biden has handled gun violence as president with opposition from both Republicans and Democrats; 42 percent approved.

“It’s evident that there will be more and more tragic mass shooting incidents that will force him to act,” said Po Murray, executive director of Newtown Action Alliance, a group formed after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut. “We’re losing 100 Americans to gun violence every day and it’s not sustainable.”

In response to criticism, the Biden White House has stressed that legislative fixes are a priority. Biden is likely to make the same point on Thursday, in addition to expressing support for bills to expand background checks and close the so-called Charleston loophole that allows a gun to be transferred from licensed gun dealers before a completed background check. He also is likely to push for legislation to keep guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others, as well as a ban of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The House has already passed bills to expand background checks and close the so-called Charleston loophole but they face a tough path in the Senate.

A senior administration official recently confirmed the White House was wrapping up their actions and could announce them in a series of stages.

Biden’s expected announcement comes as gun sales have skyrocketed amid a year of pandemic quarantines, a summer of racial unrest, and the president’s victory in the 2020 election, during which he promised an aggressive push to reduce gun violence. The year 2020 saw a record number of gun homicides in the United States.

“The administration has been working hard from Day One to pursue actions to reduce gun violence,” the senior administration official said recently. “We understand the urgency. No one understands the urgency more than the president and are looking forward to rolling out some of the initial actions we can take.”

The White House has held several meetings on gun violence with prominent groups pushing for gun restrictions, community-based groups, and survivors of gun violence. The meetings were led by Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement.

Community-based groups cheered Biden’s decision to include $5 billion for community violence prevention programs in the $2 trillion infrastructure package he unveiled last week.

“With this investment of our federal tax dollars, we have an unprecedented opportunity

to build an infrastructure of peace to heal and disrupt cycles of violence,” said a coalition of community groups dubbed Fund Peace that pushed for funding.

Biden has a lengthy history of dealing with gun legislation, though his most recent effort ended in notable failure. After the shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama asked his then vice president to push through what he had hoped would be the biggest firearms restrictions since the Clinton administration. But after months of meetings and limited executive actions, a bill to require expanded background checks died on the Senate floor.

The Senate is even less Democratic now, split 50-50. Any bill would require at least 10 Republicans to vote with all Democrats, which is unlikely.

Igor Volsky, executive director of the advocacy group Guns Down America, said he hoped Biden would unveil a comprehensive plan that includes regulations, executive actions, funding and a strategy to get legislation through Congress.

“The president didn’t just run on executive actions when it comes to gun violence,” Volsky said. “He promised to put forward a robust comprehensive plan for reducing gun violence. Given the violence he inherited, we expect him to live up at the promise.”

With reporting by Betsy Woodruff and Josh Gerstein

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