Biden boosts gun control with tougher background checks
President Joe Biden signed an executive order Tuesday expanding the number of background checks conducted before gun sales, imposing harsher penalties on violations of federal firearms law and directing a study of how firearm manufacturers market to minors.
Biden announced the order in Monterey Park, California, a community outside Los Angeles that was the site of a mass shooting in late January, when a gunman killed 11 people and wounded nine others at a dance hall during Lunar New Year celebrations. Prior to his speech, the president met with first responders and families of the victims.
The order aims to move the U.S. as close as possible to universal background checks without new congressional action while boosting existing laws and improving law enforcement cooperation.
“It’s just common sense,” Biden said. “Check whether someone’s a felon, a domestic abuser, before they buy a gun.”
According to the nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive, 8,411 people have died of firearm-related causes in 2023, including 4,818 suicides. The database reported at least 110 mass shootings so far this year, which are defined as shootings with at least four people injured or killed in a single incident.
A White House fact sheet says the order directs Attorney General Merrick Garland to “do everything he can to ensure that firearms sellers who do not realize they are required to run background checks under existing law, or who are willfully violating existing law, become compliant with background check requirements." Specifically, it will clarify the statutory definition of who is “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms.
“This move would mean fewer guns will be sold without background checks, and therefore fewer guns will end up in the hands of felons and domestic abusers,” the fact sheet says.
The order will mandate improvements to the reporting of ballistics data from federal law enforcements for a clearinghouse that allows federal, state and local law enforcement to match shell casings to guns. Local and state law enforcement are not required to report such data.
Observing that thousands of firearms are lost or stolen in transit between dealers every year, Biden’s order also directs the secretary of transportation and the Department of Justice to take action. The White House said that there were 6,100 firearms reported lost or stolen during shipment between licensed firearms dealers in 2022, up from about 1,700 in 2018.
Biden is asking the Federal Trade Commission to issue a report about how gun manufacturers market to minors and use military images to market to the general public.
Finally, the president is calling for more awareness of so-called red-flag laws, which are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior.
“These laws are only effective if the public knows when and how to use red flag orders,” the White House said.
Biden called on Congress to take further action on gun control, including a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms deemed assault weapons, similar to a prohibition passed in 1994.
“Let’s be clear: none of this absolves Congress from the responsibility of acting to pass universal background checks,” he said.
The president’s call isn’t likely to make much headway in Congress, where Republicans control the House of Representatives.
The executive order is already drawing fire from Second Amendment advocates. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry trade association, said the order was “simply rehashing existing law.” NSSF also said the industry has been “consistently addressing compliance” with federal regulations for firearms lost or stolen during shipping.
Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice president, said the White House should demand that “soft-on-crime prosecutors and lawmakers” go after “criminals that misuse firearms to prey on innocent Americans.”
“Instead, this administration continues to scapegoat the firearm industry for its unwillingness to address crime,” Keane said in a press release. “The failure of this administration to seriously address spiraling crime and instead focus its attacks on a constitutionally protected industry that works diligently to remain in compliance with laws and regulations and actively cooperates with law enforcement … exposes the lack of urgency Americans demand to curb rampant and out-of-control crime.”