Biden to announce executive action on ghost guns, red flag laws

President Biden will announce on Thursday six executive actions geared towards preventing all forms of gun violence, including mass shootings, community violence, domestic violence and suicide. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will issue a series of proposed rules aimed at restricting the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, encouraging states to adopt red flag laws and tightening loopholes around certain modified pistols.

The department is also expected to issue a comprehensive report on firearm trafficking for the first time since 2000, and Biden will make official his intent to nominate David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A senior administration official would not say whether the rule being announced Thursday would single-handedly or immediately reclassify ghost guns. But the official made clear the president viewed the announcement as a first step in tackling the issue of gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo.

“The president will not wait for Congress to act before the administration takes our own steps,” the official said in a call with reporters.

The DOJ within 30 days will issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of ghost guns. Ghost guns are untraceable when they turn up at crime scenes because they don’t have serial numbers. 

The senior administration officials said ghost guns are a growing problem and are made through kits containing nearly all components of a gun, with assembly directions. The officials wouldn’t specify if this rule would classify ghost guns as firearms. A group of Democratic senators previously urged Biden to grant ATF greater authority to regulate ghost guns.

Within 60 days, the DOJ will publish model red flag legislation for states. Red flag laws would allow police or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove firearms from people in crisis.

“As the president urges Congress to pass legislation that will create an appropriate, national red flag law and also pass legislation that incentivizes states to adopt red flag laws, the Justice Department’s published model legislation will make it easier for states that want to adopt red flag laws to do so,” the official said.

Red flag laws previously gained momentum after a spate of mass shootings in 2019 when some Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), proposed legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to identify potentially dangerous individuals and get a judge’s order to confiscate their guns. Then-President Trump initially supported the idea before backing away, and no such legislation was ever passed.

The DOJ, also within 60 days, will issue a proposed rule to make clear that when a stabilizing device effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, that firearm is subject to the requirement of the National Firearms Act. The alleged shooter in Boulder used a pistol with an arm brace, which makes a firearm more stable and accurate.

Biden will also take action toward evidence-based community violence intervention programs that can be used as tools “without turning to incarceration,” according to the officials. Five federal agencies will be making changes to 26 different programs to support community violence intervention programs.

The executive actions come weeks after the shootings in Georgia and Colorado, the first high-profile mass shootings of the Biden administration. The president had vowed to take action in his first 100 days to tackle gun violence after years of inaction by Congress, and it remains unclear whether any gun reforms will pass the narrowly divided Senate.

Momentum has repeatedly hit a wall in Congress, even as mass shootings become commonplace in the United States. Congress failed to pass stronger gun laws after the Sandy Hook shooting, when Biden was vice president, and initial optimism fell by the wayside following back-to-back massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in 2019.

Two gun violence prevention bills passed the House last month, and both face an uphill battle in the Senate. One would strengthen background checks, and the other would close the so-called Charleston loophole by extending the time federal investigators have to conduct background checks.

“The administration is going to move forward to deliver progress via executive action when we have the authority to do so,” the official said.

The officials also stressed that Biden has worked with gun violence prevention advocacy groups for years, dating back to his time in the Senate. Chipman is a senior policy adviser at the group Giffords.

“He has been in a long conversation with many of these groups,” the official said, adding that Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Biden adviser Cedric Richmond have been leading these conversations.

Everytown for Gun Safety said in a statement that these actions “begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history.”

“We are glad to hear the administration’s commitment that today’s actions are just the beginning, and look forward to continuing to work closely with them to end gun violence in this country,” Everytown President John Feinblatt said in a statement on Wednesday.

Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts also called these actions “a huge victory” and applauded Biden in a statement.

–Updated on April 8 at 6:50 a.m.

Tags Cedric Richmond Donald Trump Firearms ghost guns gun violence Guns Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Mass shootings red flag laws Susan Rice
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