Biden Signs Executive Order to Increase Gun Background Checks
MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed an executive order aimed at increasing the number of background checks conducted before the sale of a firearm.
Last June, in the wake of mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Biden signed a bipartisan measure into law intended to prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms and increase investments in the nation’s mental health system.
The bill was the most significant gun control measure to clear Congress in nearly three decades.
“God willing,” the president said at the time, “it’s going to save a lot of lives.”
But even as he celebrated that significant achievement, he acknowledged the legislation fell far short of what he’d been pushing for, including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks on gun sales and repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from prosecution.
Even some Senate Democrats opposed his effort to impose universal background checks on all buyers last year, and with the House now in Republican control, getting his firearm-priorities enacted into law are even more unlikely.
The executive order Biden signed Tuesday was then, in a sense, his acknowledgement of this political reality and his enactment of a series of measures that are within his authority.
Most significantly, he is directing the attorney general to move the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation “by clarifying, as appropriate, the statutory definition of who is engaged in ‘the business of dealing in firearms,’ as updated by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
The move, the White House said, 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.
“It’s just common sense,” Biden himself said before an audience of gun violence victims and their families gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley in Monterey Park, California, on Tuesday.
“Check whether someone is a violent felon, a domestic abuser, before they buy a gun.”
The president is also directing the attorney general to develop and implement a plan to prevent former federally licensed firearms dealers, whose licenses have been revoked or surrendered, from continuing to engage in the business of dealing in firearms.
Toward this end, Biden wants the attorney general to publicly release, “to the fullest extent permissible by law,” all records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives related to firearms dealers cited for violation of federal firearm laws.
Doing so, he said, will empower the public and policymakers to better understand the problem, and then improve our laws to hold rogue gun dealers accountable.
The president is also directing members of his cabinet to encourage the effective use of the so-called “red flag” laws already in place in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
These laws, also known as “extreme risk protection orders” allowed responsible community members to petition a court to determine whether an individual is dangerous and should have their access to firearms removed, at least temporarily.
Biden’s order cites a need to improve public awareness in this regard, because “these laws are only effective if the public knows when and how” to use them.
Similarly, he is directing the cabinet to expand existing federal campaigns to promote the safe storage of firearms.
The president is also directing the secretary of Transportation to redouble the department’s efforts to reduce the loss or theft of firearms during shipment and improve reporting of such losses or thefts.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data indicates an over 250% increase in the number of firearms reported as lost or stolen during shipment between federally licensed firearms dealers, from roughly 1,700 in 2018 to more than 6,100 in 2022.
In addition, the president is encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report analyzing how gun manufacturers market firearms to minors and how such manufacturers market firearms to all civilians, including through the use of military imagery.
The executive order also calls for a proposal on how the federal government can meet the short and long-term needs of a community impacted by mass shootings, similar to how authorities respond to natural disasters.
“But let’s be clear: None of this absolves Congress of the responsibility of acting to pass universal background checks, and eliminating gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability,” he said to appreciative applause.
“And I am determined once again to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I led the fight to ban them in 1994. In the 10 years that law was in place, mass shootings went down,” he said.
“Our Republican friends let it expire, and mass shootings tripled since then. Tripled,” Biden said. “So let’s finish the job. Ban assault weapons. Ban them again. Do it now. Enough. Do something. Do something big.”