Biden takes narrow action on gun control
US president directs Justice Department to start drafting limited firearm regulations
US President Joe Biden on Thursday issued narrow executive actions intended to help to curb the gun violence plaguing the country, while urging Congress to pass more expansive legislation despite widespread Republican opposition.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it’s an international embarrassment,” Mr Biden said in the White House’s Rose Garden alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
He directed Mr Garland’s Justice Department to draft a rule that he hopes will limit the spread of handmade guns, which require no serial numbers.
“I want to rein in the proliferation of so-called ghost guns,” Mr Biden said. “These are guns that are home-made, built from a kit and include directions on how to finish the firearm.
“You can go buy the kit. They have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced.
"And the buyers aren’t required to do a background check to buy the gun.”
The president said he wanted to “see these kits treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act".
Another proposed Justice Department rule would require regulations under the National Firearms Act to include stabilising bracers for pistols.
“We want to treat pistols modified with stabilising braces with the seriousness they deserve,” Mr Biden said.
“A stabilising brace – you get a pistol, essentially makes that pistol more accurate than a mini-rifle. As a result, it’s more lethal, effectively turning it into a short-barrelled rifle.”
He said the gunman who murdered 10 people in a Colorado grocery store appeared to have used a stabilising brace.
The mass shooting took place less than a week after another gunman murdered eight people, most of them Asian-American women, in Georgia.
“Between those two incidents, less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings … that took the lives of more than 250 people and left 500 injured,” Mr Biden said.
“This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop.”
He also spoke of a new shooting today in which a former American football player in South Carolina gunned down a doctor, his wife, two grandchildren and another person working in his home.
The gunman was former NFL player Phillip Adams, who killed himself early on Thursday, an inside source told AP.
Later on Thursday, yet another mass shooting occurred, this time at an industrial park in central Texas where a gunman opened fire at a business, killing at least one person and wounding four others.
Mr Biden also announced the nomination of David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
He said the agency, which is responsible for enforcing gun regulations, has not had a permanent director since 2015.
Mr Chipman is currently as a senior policy adviser at a gun control advocacy organisation started by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Ms Giffords was shot in the head in 2011 while speaking with constituents in Arizona. Eighteen other people were also shot, six of whom died.
Mr Biden also directed the Justice Department to issue a report on arms trafficking.
“Today, with online sales and ghost guns, times and trafficking methods have changed and we need to adjust," he said.
The department will issue a template for what Mr Biden called “modern red-flag legislation”, referring to state-level laws that allow courts to temporarily remove firearms from people considered to be a danger to themselves or others.
He expressed hope that states would use this as a blueprint to develop other red-flag laws, and called for a national red-flag law, which he would have to work with Congress to pass.
“Whether Congress acts or not, I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal as president to keep the American people safe from gun violence,” Mr Biden said.
“But there’s much more Congress can do to help that effort and they can do it right now.
“They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they’ve passed not a single federal law to reduce gun violence.”
He called on the Senate to vote on legislation to expand gun background checks, which the House of Representatives passed last month.
Ms Harris’s tiebreaking vote ensures that Democrats have narrow control over the Senate, which is split 50-50.
But passing the background check legislation would probably require Democrats to eliminate or reform the filibuster, under which 60 votes are typically needed in the upper chamber to pass most legislation.
Finding 10 Senate Republicans to support the background check legislation is an unlikely prospect, given the extreme unpopularity of gun control measures among the party’s base.
Republicans say gun-control measures breach rights enshrined in the constitution’s Second Amendment.
Senator Ted Cruz from Texas said that instead of pursuing gun control measures, the Biden administration should "go after violent criminals and come down on them like a tonne of bricks".
But Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a moderate Senate Republican who pursued a failed bipartisan deal on background checks with Democrats in 2013, offered an olive branch after Mr Biden's announcement.
Mr Toomey said his team was reviewing Mr Biden's executive actions but "lasting progress is made through the legislative process".
“Everything that’s being proposed today is totally consistent with the Second Amendment,” Mr Biden said.
“They’re phoney arguments, suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake from what we’re talking about.
"But no amendment to the constitution is absolute. You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theatre and call it freedom of speech.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “I’m so proud of what President Biden presented this morning, addressing the epidemic of gun violence in our country.
"More than 41,000 Americans died in gun violence last year, the highest year on record so far, with the most vulnerable being women, children, communities of colour cruelly and disproportionately affected."
Updated: April 9, 2021 02:31 AM