U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an executive order directing federal agencies to step up enforcement of a bipartisan gun control law he signed nine months ago that expands background checks for gun buyers and strengthens rules allowing the temporary removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person.
The 2022 Safer Communities Act expands background checks for buyers under age 21 and cracks down on interstate gun trafficking. It also sets aside federal funding for states to create and implement so-called red flag laws that prevent convicted domestic abusers from buying firearms and provides more federal funding for violence intervention programs and mental health services.
Biden spoke about his latest efforts to curb gun violence in a speech from Monterey Park, California, where a shooter opened fire in a dance hall during a Lunar New Year celebration on January 21, killing 11 people and injuring nine others.
“A tragedy that has pierced the soul of this nation, here in Monterey Park, San Gabriel Valley, the heart of the Asian American community,” Biden said.
Biden framed his executive order — which includes directives to address an uptick in firearms stolen in transit, enforce and increase public awareness of safe storage laws, and improve intra-agency coordination and database reporting to assist investigations of gun crimes — as the most comprehensive policy a president can enact without Congress.
Universal background checks
“My executive order directs my attorney general to take every lawful action possible ... to move us as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation,” Biden said.
Mark Collins, director of federal policy at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for universal background checks, said Biden’s executive action is significant.
“This will take the predominantly large portion of people who are selling arms for profit and force them to make that decision — whether or not they want to continue to sell guns or whether or not they want to become a licensed dealer and sell guns with background checks,” said Collins told VOA.
At the same time, Biden called on lawmakers to take additional actions not only mandating universal background checks but also reenacting the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as eliminating legislation that shields the firearm and ammunition industries from lawsuits.
However, the prospect of additional gun legislation is slim under the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Activists say Biden should do more to leverage his executive powers, including appointing a point person to coordinate federal responses to gun violence and directing the federal agency in charge of overseeing federal firearms licenses to enforce the law and revoke the licenses of repeat offenders.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade industry group, said in a statement it opposed Biden’s executive order because it threatened constitutional rights and was "simply rehashing existing law."
"The Biden administration should demand that soft-on-crime prosecutors and lawmakers use the laws already in existence to lock up criminals that misuse firearms to prey on innocent Americans," said Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice president.
Changing gun politics
The fact that Biden is continuing to push ahead on the issue speaks to the changing politics of guns, said Matt Lacombe, associate professor of American politics at Case Western Reserve University.
“There was a belief that gun control would be a losing issue for Democrats, something that would be more likely to lose them votes rather than gain them votes,” Lacombe told VOA. But now with the gun lobby somewhat losing their grip on Democratic politicians, and gun control activists pushing hard on the progressive wing of Biden’s Democratic party, Lacombe said Biden appears to be more comfortable to take bolder actions ahead of the 2024 presidential race.
The U.S. has some of the weakest gun laws compared to other industrialized nations and the most guns in the world – 390 million or 1.2 guns per capita. About 43,000 Americans die from gun violence every year, more than 116 people on average each day.