Biden issues executive order aimed at reducing gun violence: "It's common sense"

Biden executive order on gun violence aims to strengthen background checks

Washington — President Biden issued an executive order on Tuesday that aims to increase the number of background checks to buy guns, promote better and more secure firearms storage and ensure U.S. law enforcement agencies are getting the most out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer.

The Democratic president discussed his latest efforts at curbing gun violence in a speech from Monterey Park, California. In January, a gunman stormed a dance hall in the community near Los Angeles and shot 20 people, killing 11, following a Lunar New Year celebration. The president called the shooting "a tragedy that has pierced the soul of this nation."

"I'm here on behalf of the American people to mourn with you, to pray with you, to let you now you are loved and not alone," he told the crowd, before memorializing each of the victims individually. 

"I'm here with you today to act," he added, detailing gun violence legislation that he signed into law last year. "Today, I'm announcing another executive order that will accelerate and intensify this work to save more live, more quickly."

The executive order directs the attorney general to increase background checks by cracking down on gun sellers who don't perform them when required, with the goal of "moving us as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation," as Mr. Biden put it. The order also directs federal agencies to improve public awareness and promote the use of "red-flag" laws, and instructs the attorney general to release more information about federally licensed firearms dealers who violate the law. 

"It's common sense," Mr. Biden said in his remarks.

The directive further instructs the Pentagon to "develop and implement principles to further firearm and public safety practices through the Department of Defense's acquisition of firearms."

President Biden speaks about the Monterey Park shooting and his efforts to reduce gun violence at The Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley in Monterey Park, California, March 14, 2023. LEAH MILLIS / REUTERS

Mr. Biden's rhetoric has only grown stronger around guns — he routinely calls for banning so-called assault weapons in his speeches — and Democrats didn't push such a vocal anti-gun platform even during the Obama administration, when Mr. Biden was vice president. But Mr. Biden has been emboldened by the midterms after his regular talk of gun control didn't result in massive losses, and he's expected to continue to push for strong changes as he inches toward a 2024 run, his aides say.

Mr. Biden invited Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old who wrestled the semi-automatic pistol away from the gunman in Monterey Park, to his State of the Union address and praised the young man's heroism, which he reiterated in Tuesday's remarks.

His power is limited to go beyond bipartisan legislation passed by Congress last summer, the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades. It followed the killings last year of 10 shoppers at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store and 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

"Let's be clear: None of this absolves Congress from the responsibility of acting, to pass universal background checks, eliminate gun manufacturer immunity from liability. And I'm determined once again to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," the president said.

Mr. Biden's order mandates that his Cabinet work on a plan to better structure the government to support communities suffering from gun violence. The plan calls on Attorney General Merrick Garland to shore up the rules for federally licensed gun dealers so they know they are required to do background checks as part of the license.

How Biden's executive order aims to reduce gun violence

Mr. Biden is also mandating better reporting of ballistics data from federal law enforcement for a clearinghouse that allows federal, state and local law enforcement to match shell casings to guns. But local and state law enforcement agencies are not required to report ballistics data, and many do not, making the clearinghouse less effective.

And the president is asking the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report analyzing how gun manufacturers market to minors and use military images to market to the general public.

The bill passed last year, known as the Safer Communities Act, is viewed by gun control advocates as a good start but one that doesn't go far enough. After the law was signed, there were 11 other mass shootings, according to a database of mass killings since 2006 maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. Those killings don't include shootings in which fewer than four people were killed — and gun violence is also rising nationwide.

"President Biden's executive order today is a home run for public safety," said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. "This is the latest example of President Biden's leadership on gun safety, and we're proud to stand with him as he takes robust action to help close the gun-seller loophole — which will significantly expand background checks on gun sales, keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people and save lives."

Mr. Biden is also directing his Cabinet to make sure law enforcement agencies understand the benefits of the new law, particularly around red-flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior and prevent them from hurting themselves or others.

Last month, the Justice Department sent out more than $200 million to help states and the District of Columbia administer red-flag laws and other crisis-intervention programs.


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