Now that he’s in office, President Joe Biden has yet to unveil details of his gun control agenda, but his comments on the campaign trail and since then suggest it will be ambitious.
For example, a month into his term, the Democratic chief executive is considering requiring purchasers of homemade firearms that lack serial numbers to undergo background checks, according to Politico, based on unidentified sources.
A White House official told the media outlet that Biden is looking at “every tool at our disposal, including executive actions.”
Biden’s outlook on the Second Amendment is significantly different from that of his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, who was generally supportive of gun ownership rights.
Former President Trump opposed proposals to restrict magazine capacity, prohibit the sale of popular rifles, impose federal licensing requirements for law-abiding gun owners, and mandate the registration of ammunition. He condemned frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers and bureaucratic harassment of firearms dealers and supported the successful repeal of a law that required the Social Security Administration to provide mental health information to a national background check system.
Some gun owners and activists were upset with Trump because he banned bump stocks and expressed support for so-called red flag laws while resisting the vast majority of the gun control movement’s proposals. Red flag laws allow petitioning a state court to remove firearms from someone a judge may determine is a danger to himself or others.
But, according to Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America (GOA), Biden’s agenda, which embraces red flag laws, banning popular AR-15 rifles, banning 3-D printing of guns, and mandating often unreliable “smart” guns, is “as extreme as you can get.”
“First of all, he wants to ban the most popular guns in America, the semiautomatics, AR-15s, and guns like that, which is probably unconstitutional,” Hammond told The Epoch Times in an interview.
“Second of all, he wants to do this universal background check, which in fact is a universal gun registry, and once they have the names of everyone who owns a gun, and once they know where they live, then they can stage a midnight raid under red flag gun confiscation and actually take the guns.”
“And of course the third element of his agenda is he is going to encourage municipalities and counties from very, very liberal jurisdictions to sue gun manufacturers and gun dealers in order to put them out of business in the same way that they almost put cigarette companies out of business.”
Biden is on record as supporting some of the more heavy-handed gun control proposals such as banning the manufacture and sale of military-style firearms and high-capacity magazines, as well as regulating the possession of existing so-called assault weapons. He favors limiting individuals to the purchase of one firearm per month and banning all internet-based sales of firearms, ammunition, kits, and gun parts.
The president also supports extending the background check time period from the current 3 days to 10 days, as well as mandating background checks for all gun sales, including those that take place at gun shows and online. He would reverse the Trump-backed repeal of the law that required the Social Security Administration to inform on people and wants to encourage more states to adopt red flag laws. He also eventually wants all guns sold to be so-called smart guns, which need an owner’s fingerprint to operate.
In recent weeks, Biden has been setting the stage for what may end up being a sweeping package of anti-gun proposals as he uses his bully pulpit to rouse his progressive political base.
Both Connecticut senators want Biden to take decisive action.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, who said he spoke with White House officials in recent days, urged the president to move forward aggressively. “My view is the bigger and bolder the better on gun violence prevention because we have a unique window of opportunity,” Blumenthal said, as quoted by Politico.
Sen. Chris Murphy, also a Democrat, said he intends to reintroduce his universal background check bill in coming weeks.
The gun-control cause “is not going away,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), vice chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in Congress told McClatchy earlier this month.
“I would just say to any elected official that you ignore this issue at your peril. You have to make sure you’re addressing this because the tide turned a long time ago.”
Pro-gun control activist groups have expressed support for Biden’s efforts.
“This administration is what, three weeks old, [but] it’s the strongest gun safety administration in history, whether you’re talking about the president or the vice president or the cabinet,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We’ve got full confidence they’re going to govern like it.”
Christian Hayne, vice president of policy for Brady, formerly the National Council to Control Handguns said: “We have changed state legislatures. We have passed voter referendums. We have seen for the first time [a] Democratic primary where every single candidate was trying to outdo themselves on how much they care about this issue.
“We do anticipate the momentum will continue to build until we get the change that we desperately need.”
Not a Slam Dunk
But none of Biden’s proposals are likely to be a slam dunk in the narrowly Democratic-controlled Congress. There is an evenly divided Senate, with the legislative filibuster still intact, at least for the time being, and a House of Representatives with a reduced majority.
Despite constitutional protection for individual gun ownership, firearms are already one of the most heavily regulated consumer goods in America, and people who own firearms aren’t likely to embrace Biden’s plans.
About 30 percent of Americans own firearms, and 43 percent live in a household where guns are kept, David Harsanyi reported at National Review in August 2020.
Based on FBI background check data, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that more than 12 million guns were purchased in the first seven months of last year while civil unrest engulfed much of the nation. That figure is 70 percent higher than for the corresponding time span in 2019.
“This number is likely to include nearly 5 million first-time gun owners so far this year,” Harsanyi said. “That is probably the biggest surge in gun ownership in American history.”
The Parkland Shooting
Still, the new president, who takes credit for the now-expired 1994 assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazine ban that he shepherded through the Senate, is talking tough, promising change that left-wing activists have been demanding for years.
In comments on Feb. 14, the third anniversary of the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Biden said his administration would “do better” in its quest to strengthen gun control laws.
“Over these three years, the Parkland families have taught all of us something profound. Time and again, they have showed us how we can turn our grief into purpose—to march, organize, and build a strong, inclusive, and durable movement for change,” he said in a statement.
“This administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer.”
A total of 17 people lost their lives on Valentine’s Day 2018 in what was the deadliest high school mass shooting in American history.
A week after the massacre, President Donald Trump called gun-free schools a “magnet” for mass shooters and proposed bonus pay for teachers willing to carry concealed firearms to protect their students.
“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican who at the time was Florida’s governor, called the attack “absolutely pure evil.”
NRA: ‘Stay Vigilant’
On Jan. 8, Biden used the 10th anniversary of the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, to pledge on Twitter that he would “defeat the NRA and end our epidemic of gun violence.”
Giffords suffered a severe brain injury during the attack and later resigned from Congress. Her husband, Mark Kelly, also a pro-gun control Democrat, was sworn in as the junior senator from Arizona in December after winning a special election. Together, the two founded an eponymous gun control advocacy and research organization called Giffords.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a civil rights organization with 5.5 million members. On Jan. 15, the pro-Second Amendment group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection six months after New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, claimed its leadership had misappropriated funds.
The NRA answered Biden with a tweet of its own asking gun owners to “stay vigilant” in defending their constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms during the Biden administration.
GOA’s Hammond reiterated that Biden supports red flag laws, but minimized Trump’s endorsement of them, characterizing his move as “flirting” with the idea since he didn’t actually pursue their implementation. The new president is “apparently quite serious about implementing” such laws, he said, and it doesn’t help that “there was a time some Republicans were saying this is gun control that we can agree with.”
“It’s among the nastier aspects of gun control to say that based on unsubstantiated allegations, a judge, without listening to you, can nevertheless order secret raids on your house in the middle of the night, and if you resist, as some people have, you’ll be shot to death,” Hammond told The Epoch Times.
Red flag laws worry civil libertarians because, they say, in some states those laws offer little or no due process protections, allowing a police officer, member of the family, or a member of the community, sometimes anonymously, to report a gun owner whose behavior suggests he may be a danger to others or himself.
Under red flag laws, sometimes called risk-based gun-control laws, a judge determines if the gun owner is a threat to public safety based on his statements and actions. In certain circumstances, a hearing can take place without notice to the gun owner. If the judge deems the individual a risk, the person’s guns can be seized provisionally pending further judicial proceedings. These taken guns are returned to the person unless a judge orders an extension of the period of confiscation.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have red flag laws, according to Giffords. Of these, 12 states and D.C. let family or household members as well as law enforcement petition for a confiscation order, which in some places is called an extreme risk protection order. Maryland and D.C. let mental health providers petition. New York lets school administrators file petitions. Hawaii lets medical professionals, co-workers, and teachers file petitions.
“Extreme risk protection orders provide a proactive way to temporarily restrict a person showing clear warning signs of violence from accessing firearms,” according to Giffords.
The laws authorizing the orders provide “lifesaving tools that can prevent gun tragedies before they occur.”