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Biden Takes First Gun Control Actions

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With gun control measures stalled in Congress, Biden announces actions against gun violence.

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Biden Announces Next Steps on Gun Reform

President Biden outlined steps he would take to combat gun violence, vowing to create change despite stalling in Congress.

Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. Let me say it again, gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment. [applause] Every day in this country, 316 people are shot every single day — 106 of them die every day. Today, I asked the Justice Department to publish a model red flag legislation. So states can start crafting their own laws, right now. Just like with background checks, the vast majority of Americans support these extreme risk-protection order laws. And it’s time to put these laws on the books, and protect even more people. Whether Congress acts or not, I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal as president to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort. And they can do it right now. They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress. But they passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers. Time for some action.

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President Biden outlined steps he would take to combat gun violence, vowing to create change despite stalling in Congress.CreditCredit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times
  • April 8, 2021, 8:34 a.m. ET

President Biden, calling gun violence in the United States “an international embarrassment,” took a set of initial steps on Thursday to address the problem, starting with a crackdown on the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, or firearms assembled from kits.

Acknowledging that more aggressive actions like banning assault weapons and closing background check loopholes would have to wait for action from Congress, he said it was nonetheless vital to do what he could on his own to confront what he called an epidemic of shootings that are killing roughly 100 Americans a day.

“We’ve got a long way to go — it seems like we always have a long way to go,” Mr. Biden said during an appearance in the Rose Garden, weeks after two mass shootings.

The most substantive of the steps was directing the Justice Department to curb the spread of ghost guns. Kits for these guns can be bought without background checks and allow a gun to be assembled from pieces with no serial numbers.

Mr. Biden said he wanted the department to issue a regulation within a month to require that the components in the kits have serial numbers that would allow them to be traced and that the weapons be legally classified as firearms, with the buyers subjected to background checks.

“I want to see these kits treated as firearms under the gun control act,” Mr. Biden said.

Ghost guns, experts said, have become particularly appealing to criminal organizations and right wing extremists who want untraceable firearms that do not require any background checks. They are often tied to shootings in states like California, which have instituted strict gun laws.

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What Do Homemade Guns Mean for Gun Laws? We Made One to Find Out

Virtually anyone can buy a kit online to build a gun from parts — without a background check. That raises questions about the future of gun regulation.

[GUN CLICKS] This is a gun I made myself. The government doesn’t know I have it, but it’s totally legal. You can buy a kit online with all the parts you need to build a Glock 19. You don’t need a 3-D printer or fancy tools, and you don’t need a background check. I purchased the Glock 19 during Glocktober, so I got $100 off. People call these ghost guns. And they’re becoming more popular, especially for people who want a gun, but don’t want any record that it exists. I’d like to see how easy it is to build one of these guns and to find out what these kits mean for the future of gun regulation. Order is confirmed. All that’s left to do is build it. I don’t have a handgun license in New York, so I sent the kit to Virginia, where you don’t need one. Let’s make a gun. I get the appeal of making a gun. I like building stuff. And for a lot of people who buy these kits, that’s the point. They’re fun to make. “Hey, guys. Today we’re going to be going over how to build your Full Conceal Polymer80 frame. So it’s actually fairly quick to do this.” “Kind of paint by numbers in a sense.” The lower receiver or frame is the only part of the gun that’s technically considered a firearm under U.S. law. Gun kits aren’t regulated like firearms because they come with unfinished lower receivers. “So this is the lower receiver, and it’s in this jig. So what we’ll need to do is remove the extra pieces that are sticking up out of the jig.” [SNAPPING] Yeah, instead of shop, I took early childhood development. It was actually really awesome. The finished lower receiver looks almost identical to the unfinished one. You just drill a few holes and remove these extra bits of polymer. Then you assemble and add the rest of the parts. If you do it right, you’ll have a working firearm. On a factory-made gun, the serial number would go here. But the gun I’m building won’t have one, so there’s no way to trace it. Gun kits aren’t regulated at all in most states. There are no records of sales. And for a lot of people, that’s the appeal. “Hey.” “Hey.” “Andy Lander.” “Jeremy White.” Andy Lander is a firearms expert who worked for the N.R.A. for 13 years. He’s built guns before. “We’re still technically a free country. And I think that one of the greatest freedoms is having privacy. To me, if you bought 100 guns, it’s none of my business.” It’s impossible to say how many ghost guns are out there or who owns them. Last year, nearly a third of all firearms seized by law enforcement in California were homemade without serial numbers. Still, Andy says the kits aren’t the problem. “A criminal is going to steal a gun. He’s going to either rob somebody and get a gun. He’s going to get a gun anyway. I’m not worried about a guy building a Glock 19 in his garage.” “Nope. Drop it in from the top.” “Drop it in.” “Straight down.” “Oh, it has to be all the way –” “You have to clear that, yeah. Push down till it pops. Yeah, that’s it.” [GUN CLICKS] “There you go. You’re done.” “Wow. Thanks for your help.” [GUN CLICKS] It took me about six hours to build my ghost gun. [GUN CLICKS] If I had to do it again, I could do it much faster. Still, there’s no guarantee that it will work. “Scot Thomasson.” “Jeremy White.” “Nice to meet you.” “Good to meet you.” “How are you?” “Good.” “Good. It’s the same damn gun.” “Really is.” “The difference is right there, serial number. And that’s important.” Scot Thomasson is a retired A.T.F. agent. He’s letting me try out my new gun on his property. “Looks O.K. Looks like it’s not going to blow up anybody’s hand, so that’s a good thing.” “Let’s go test it out.” [GUN CLICKS] [GUN FIRES] “Hit.” [GUN FIRES] “Hit.” [GUN FIRES] “O.K.” “That’s a working gun.” “Yeah, sure enough is. Listen, I worked violent crime my whole career for 26 years. You want those officers to have every means possible bringing to justice those who use that firearm to commit acts of violence. And without a serial number on that firearm, you can’t do it.” “So if these kits had a serial number and were sold through licensed dealers, do you see any problem with that?” “No problem whatsoever. So what?” “Right now we really don’t know what we don’t know, because these guns are completely untraceable.” Jennifer Wexton is a representative from Virginia’s 10th district and a co-sponsor on two bills that would broaden the definition of firearms to include assembly kits. so you couldn’t buy them without the government knowing. “Normally the serial number would be here.” “No. And look, there’s nothing there.” “There’s nothing there.” “Yeah. That’s part of the allure of these kinds of ghost guns, by the way. So when they’re picked up in crime scenes and things like that, we know that they are out there. And we’re seeing it happen more and more.” “What do you say to the Second Amendment advocate that says, these laws are an invasion of my privacy when it comes to gun ownership?” “I think that guns should be traceable. So I think that weighing the interest in not having a serial number on your firearm versus the overall public safety, I come down on the side of public safety.” In the end, the government does find out about my ghost gun. Without a handgun license, I can’t bring this gun back to New York, so I’m turning it in to the local police. They interview me, do a background check and file a police report. That’s a lot more screening than I went through to get the gun in the first place. For most people, this isn’t the easiest way to get a gun. It takes time and skill. Some people may like that challenge. Most people would rather just buy one from a gun shop or a licensed dealer. But if you’re a felon, or underage, or you can’t legally buy a gun for some other reason, these kits make it remarkably easy to get one anyway.

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Virtually anyone can buy a kit online to build a gun from parts — without a background check. That raises questions about the future of gun regulation.CreditCredit…Brian Dawson

The president on Thursday outlined several other actions he was taking on his own. He said he would require that when a device known as a stabilizing brace effectively transforms a pistol into a short-barrel rifle, that weapon would be subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act. That would subject those guns to extra layers of regulation required to own more serious firearms or silencers, including fingerprinting, a background check and a regular renewal of a license.

The gunman in the Boulder, Colo., shooting last month used a pistol with an arm brace, making it more stable and accurate, the president said.

Mr. Biden said the Justice Department would also publish model “red flag” legislation for states. The measure would allow police officers and family members to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from people who may present a danger to themselves or others.

While the president cannot pass national red flag legislation without Congress, officials said the goal of the guidance was to make it easier for states that want to adopt it to do so now.

“Red flag laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he wanted to see a national law.

Outside of mass shootings, gun violence remains the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 15 and 34, Mr. Biden said in his remarks, noting that additional funding he has proposed for community violence programs can save lives.

The initiatives announced Thursday do not match in scope his commitment to the issue over the course of his career, particularly his time as a senator. In 1993, Mr. Biden played a key role in the passage of the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. A year later, he helped authorize a 10-year ban on assault weapons.

Mr. Biden acknowledged there is only so much he can do without Congress. “This is just a start,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

The House passed two gun control bills last month, but they are languishing in the Senate in the face of the chamber’s 60-vote threshold for passing most legislation, which requires the support of at least 10 Republicans. Mr. Biden called on the Senate to take action.

Mr. Biden also announced his nomination of David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau has not had a permanent director since 2015.

While Mr. Chipman’s selection came as welcome news to gun control groups, few nominees put forward by Mr. Biden have faced steeper odds of confirmation in the Senate. Still, his allies think he may be able to win narrow approval given the anguish over recent shootings.

In 2006, lawmakers allied with the National Rifle Association enacted a provision making the position of A.T.F. director, which had previously been a political appointment, subject to Senate confirmation. As a result, only one director, Obama nominee B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed over the last 15 years.

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