Biden seeks crackdown on homemade firearms

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 9, 2021

By Alexandra Jaffe, Aamer Madhani and Michael Balsamo

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden put on a modest White House ceremony Thursday to announce a half-dozen executive actions to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America.

But he said much more is needed. And for Biden, who proposed the most ambitious gun-control agenda of any modern presidential candidate, his limited moves underscored his limited power to act alone on guns with difficult politics impeding legislative action on Capitol Hill.

Biden’s new steps include a move to crack down on “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and are often purchased without a background check. He’s also moving to tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces like the one used in Boulder, Colorado, in a shooting last month that left 10 dead.

The president’s actions delivered on a pledge he made last month to take what he termed immediate “common-sense steps” to address gun violence, after a series of mass shootings drew renewed attention to the issue. His announcement came the same day as yet another episode, this one in South Carolina, where five people were killed.

But his orders stop well short of some of his biggest campaign-trail proposals, including his promise to ban the importation of assault weapons, his embrace of a voluntary gun buyback program and a pledge to provide resources for the Justice Department and FBI to better enforce the nation’s current gun laws and track firearms.

And while gun control advocates lauded Thursday’s moves as a strong first step in combating gun violence, they, too, acknowledged that action from lawmakers on Capitol Hill is needed to make lasting change.

“Some of the other big-ticket items are legislative,” said Josh Horowitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “And that’s going to be very difficult.”

Biden mentioned a formidable list of priorities he’d like to see Congress tackle, including passing the Violence Against Women Act, eliminating lawsuit exemptions for gun manufacturers and banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

But with an evenly-divided Senate — and any gun control legislation requiring 60 votes to pass — Democrats would have to keep every member of their narrow majority on board while somehow adding 10 Republicans.

Horowitz said “it’s hard to think” who those Republicans would be, and though that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win gun control “we’re going to have to change some of the people who are in the Senate.”

Gun-control advocates say the National Rifle Association’s legal and financial issues have greatly weakened the once-mighty pro-gun lobby and helped turn the public tide in favor of some restrictions on gun ownership.

The House passed two bills in March largely along party lines that would expand and strengthen background checks for gun sales and transfers. But most Republicans argue that strengthened checks could take guns away from law-abiding owners. A small bipartisan group of senators is trying to find compromise based on a 2013 deal that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales but was rejected then by five votes.