WASHINGTON – Since Congress is unlikely to move quickly on gun legislation, the White House is moving forward with plans for a series of executive orders that President Biden hopes to implement in the coming weeks as a way to keep pressure on the topic.
A day after Biden asked the Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to strengthen background checks in response to a pair of mass shootings last week that left 18 dead, White House officials said Wednesday that As legislation progressed, gun safety remained a goal, it would take time, given vehement opposition from Republicans.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the legislation was necessary to make permanent changes. But he also suggested that the executive actions under consideration could be a realistic starting point.
“There is a lot of influence that you can take, obviously, as president and vice president,” he said.
For now, administration officials have reached out to Democrats in the Senate for consultation on three executive actions. One would classify so-called ghost weapons as firearms: kits that allow a gun to be assembled from parts. Another would fund community violence intervention programs, and the third would strengthen the background check system, according to congressional aides familiar with the conversations.
Aware that any executive action on weapons will face legal challenges, the White House Attorney’s Office has also been investigating those actions to ensure they can withstand judicial review, the officials said.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the next actions. But Biden is under pressure from gun security groups to act as soon as possible.
“If there’s one thing we learned last year, it’s that inaction costs lives,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization. “It’s not about next week, it’s not about next month, it has to be today. It has to be immediate. “
During his campaign, Mr. Biden, a prominent supporter of the 1994 10-year assault weapons ban, vowed to enact universal background check legislation, ban all online sales of firearms, and ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. .
But Biden has acknowledged that he doesn’t know what legislation might be possible, even after the recent shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. “I haven’t done any counts yet,” he said Tuesday, when asked if he had the political capital to go ahead with gun safety measures.
With the National Rifle Association, once the most powerful lobbying organization in the country, mired in bankruptcy and spending more money on legal fees than fighting the White House or Congress, Biden might have more leeway.
Since the transition, officials from the Biden administration have met regularly with Feinblatt and other gun control advocates to discuss possible actions that do not need the cooperation of Congress.
Ideas they have discussed include the Federal Trade Commission evaluating gun advertisements for safety claims that are false or misleading, the Department of Education promoting interventions that prevent students from gaining access to firearms, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must provide reliable data tracking. bullet wounds.
They have also discussed whether to declare gun violence a public health emergency, a move that would free up more funds that could be used to support community gun violence programs and enforcement of current laws.
“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has funds to inspect the average gun dealer every five years,” said Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group. “We have more gun dealers than Starbucks and McDonald’s.”
Designating gun violence as a public health crisis, Brown said, would make more money available that would allow for more regular inspections. That was a proposal, he said, that was shared with Biden’s transition teams.
“We also discussed what can be done through agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services to incentivize the health care community to focus on preventative measures that can stop gun violence before it starts,” said Ms. Brown .
By now, one of the administration’s biggest pushes has been to classify “ghost weapons” as firearms. Such a classification would require them to be serialized and subject to background checks.
The administration has also discussed with Democratic senators its still fledgling plans to fund community-based violence intervention programs. The amount of funding is still up for debate.
During the campaign, Biden promised to create an eight-year, $ 900 million initiative to fund evidence-based interventions in 40 cities across the country.
“There are programs across this country that are doing a proven job,” said Ms. Brown. But they are drastically underfunded. We want an investment of $ 5 billion in these types of intervention programs against violence throughout the country. “
White House officials described a “robust interagency process,” but said its planned executive actions were not yet finished.
Although there are no plans for an imminent legislative push on weapons from a White House dealing with crises on multiple fronts, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have continued to portray legislative action as imperative.
“I am not willing to give up what we must do to appeal to the hearts, minds and reason of the members of the United States Senate,” Harris said Wednesday in an interview with “CBS This Morning.”
“It is time for Congress to act and stop with the false options,” he said. “This is not about getting rid of the Second Amendment. It’s just saying that we need reasonable gun safety laws. There is no reason why we have assault weapons on the streets of a civil society. They are weapons of war. They are designed to kill a lot of people quickly. “