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Biden targets 'ghost guns' with executive actions to combat gun violence

President Joe Biden
Posted at 1:12 PM, Apr 07, 2021

President Joe Biden formally announced plans Thursday to sign a multi-faceted executive order aimed at reducing gun violence in the U.S.

While the measures likely will be seen as paltry for gun control proponents and an overreach for gun rights supporters, a senior Biden administration official says there are six steps Biden can do without Congressional approval.

In remarks in the Rose Garden, Biden himself acknowledged that he would like to see more measures implemented, calling the current state of gun violence in the U.S. an "epidemic," and an "embarrassment to the world."

"We have a long way to go. It always seems like we have a long way to go," Biden said.

Biden's order takes the following actions:

  • Orders the Justice Department, within 30 days, to issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns."
  • Orders the Justice Department, within 60 days, to issue a proposed rule to make clear when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act.
  • Orders Justice Department, within 60 days, to publish model “red flag” legislation for states.
  • Orders his administration to investing in evidence-based community violence interventions.
  • Orders the Justice Department to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking.

The DOJ is expected to require background checks on “ghost guns,” which are guns that lack proper serial numbers. These guns are often homemade and harder to track than mass-produced guns.

“We are experiencing a growing problem: criminals are buying kits containing nearly all of the components and directions for finishing a firearm within as little as 30 minutes and using these firearms to commit crimes,” the senior White House official said Wednesday. “When these firearms turn up at crime scenes, they often cannot be traced by law enforcement due to the lack of a serial number. The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of these firearms.”

Dr. Garen Wintemute, Director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and an emergency room doctor, recently wrote a commentary on ghost guns. He cites the use of the guns in recent political violence and other high-profile crimes like mass shootings.

“Hobbiest will say, ‘But I want to make my own gun.’ Well that’s fine. Put a serial number on it. You're a hobbiest, what do you care? There is a huge market for custom building firearms,” said Dr. Wintemute. “The longer that we allow this market to continue on unfettered, the more of these guns we will continue to see show up.”

It’s hard to know how many ghost guns are out there but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recovered more than 10,000 in 2019. The same year, they traced nearly 270,000 firearms.

Anti-gun violence group Brady agrees that law-abiding citizens won't be impacted by the new rules.

“I don't see any of this at odds, and I think, frankly, what has changed today versus where we've been in the past is that gun owners, non-gun owners, Democrats, Republicans, they all agree that we need to do something more and that is why we are where we are today,” said Christian Heyne, gun violence survivor and policy VP at Brady.

Gun violence jumped to its highest levels in two decades last year with nearly 20,000 Americans killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That doesn't include an additional 24,000 suicides by gun.

On Thursday, Biden also formally nominated David Chipman to lead the ATF. Chipman is currently a senior policy adviser at Giffords, an organization led by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz. that advocates for stronger gun control laws.

Giffords was in attendance at the event on Thursday, along with Fred Guttenberg — a gun control advocate and the father of a girl killed in the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Biden also called on Congress to pass sensible gun-control measures.

"Enough prayers, it's time for action," he said.

He specifically called for legislation that would require background checks at gun shows, close the "Charleston loophole" as well as the "boyfriend loophole."

Biden said he is also still encouraging Congress to act on limiting high-capacity magazines and closing additional background check loopholes.

"There's no reason a person needs a weapon of war with 100 rounds," Biden said. "Nobody needs that."