President Biden on Thursday announced his first major executive actions on gun control since taking office, saying his administration plans to issue new regulations for “ghost” guns and braces, publish model “red flag” laws for states, and prioritize violence intervention programs.
“We got a long way to go — it seems like we always have a long way to go,” Mr. Biden said at a Rose Garden event. “But also today, we’re taking steps to confront not just the gun crisis but what is actually a public health crisis.”
The president called gun violence in the U.S. an “epidemic” and an “international embarrassment.”
Mr. Biden dismissed as “phony” arguments that the steps he outlined Thursday infringe on Second Amendment rights.
“The idea is just bizarre to suggest that some of the things we’re recommending are contrary to the Constitution,” the president said.
He was joined at the event by Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who Mr. Biden asked to prioritize gun violence issues at the Justice Department.
Mr. Biden said there’s “much more” that Congress can do on the gun issue, calling for expanded background checks and bans on assault-style firearms and high-capacity magazines.
He said if God asked him what he would prioritize if he could get one gun-related policy item passed, it would be repealing liability protections for gun companies and manufacturers.
But House-passed legislation to tighten gun-purchase background checks is unlikely to secure the 60 votes needed to thwart a filibuster in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between the two parties.
The president’s announcement comes after a string of recent mass shootings, including several in Colorado and Georgia that left 18 people dead.
Mr. Biden also acknowledged an overnight shooting in South Carolina in which former NFL Player Phillip Adams reportedly fatally shot five people before killing himself.
Mr. Biden is directing the Justice Department to issue a rule within 30 days to regulate so-called “ghost” guns that can be manufactured from do-it-yourself kits. Advocates say the firearms are essentially untraceable.
The Justice Department, within 60 days, is also supposed to issue new rules to more clearly define stabilizing braces, which many shooters attach to pistols to help guide their aim.
The accused gunman in the Colorado shooting allegedly used a brace. Last year, the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had proposed and then abandoned new regulations for the braces after an outcry from gun rights activists.
DOJ is also tasked with crafting model “red flag” legislation, which many states have adopted on their own in recent years. The laws allow families to petition law enforcement or the courts to temporarily seize guns from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others.
The Justice Department is also supposed to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking and federal agencies are expected to look for ways to redirect money into community violence intervention programs.
The president on Thursday named David Chipman as his pick to be the next ATF director.
Mr. Chipman, a former ATF agent, would be the agency’s first permanent confirmed director since 2015. Mr. Chipman has most recently served as an adviser to Giffords, a gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Ms. Giffords, who was on hand at Thursday’s event, was gravely wounded by a deranged gunman at a constituent event in 2011.
Mr. Biden half-jogged over to give her an elbow bump before departing.
“I wasn’t supposed to do that,” he said. “I’d like to see all of you…let’s get to work.”
Gun control advocates said the announced actions were a step in the right direction but that Congress needs to step in and act.
“We are glad to hear the administration’s commitment that today’s actions are just the beginning, and look forward to continuing to work closely with them to end gun violence in this country,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Gun rights groups vowed to do everything in their power to block Mr. Biden’s gun agenda from moving forward.
“Joe Biden knows he cannot beat gun owners in Congress,” said Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America. “Instead, he’s circumventing the legislative process to impose his own tyrannical [vision] by executive fiat.”