Joe Biden famously told Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke that the Texas Democrat would be his point man on gun control if he was elected president. Could that mean a cabinet-level appointment? If the gun control group March For Our Lives gets its way, the answer is “yes, sort of.”
The website Fast Company reports that the group is demanding that Biden’s transition team create the office of “national director of gun violence prevention,” which they describe as a “cabinet-adjacent” role; all of the sweeping power and authority that comes from a cabinet-level position without actually going to Congress to get approval for the new position.
“March for Our Lives did not exist the last time that we had an administration in power that was even willing to sit down at the table with us,” says Eve Levenson, March for Our Lives’ policy and government affairs manager. But, as 40,000 people each year consistently die from gun-related deaths—and as gun sales and certain types of gun violence have escalated during the coronavirus pandemic, the group argues it’s time for a bolder solution. It would also serve as a way to hold accountable an administration whose campaign repeatedly made firm promises about gun reform action.
Other national advocacy groups have echoed the call. Brady: United Against Gun Violence is recommending the same position. “This degree of coordination and resource management cannot be accomplished without the guidance of a designated director,” it says in its action report. Similarly, Everytown for Gun Safety has called for a national gun czar, and Giffords for an interagency task force.
Gun control groups know that their chances of implementing restrictions on American gun owners are going to be far better in the executive branch than the legislative branch for at least the next two years, and they expect Biden to deliver on his pledge to use executive actions to limit the Second Amendment as much as possible. In fact, March For Our Lives doesn’t just want one gun control czar in the White House. They also want another position to be created that will focus exclusively on mobilizing young Americans to reject their Second Amendment rights.
March for Our Lives is also calling for the recruitment of a second position, a director of youth engagement, which would sit on the Domestic Policy Council, a group made up of the secretaries and some additional participants who offer counsel to the president on executing effective domestic policy. Levenson is adamant that that person should be from Generation Z, so that White House policymaking has a representative from a generation that’s “grown up traumatized by school shooter drills,” she says. The group would want that person to swiftly organize a youth summit and a listening tour to ensure the administration listens to young people who “might not have the ability or the lexicon to speak in terms of policy, but whose perspectives need to be taken into account.”
So far the March For Our Lives organizers say they’ve reached out to Biden’s transition team with their demands, but haven’t received a commitment to embed anti-gun activists in the White House. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Biden embraces the idea in the coming weeks, however. He’s already indicated in his conversation with O’Rourke that he wants to have someone running point and coordinating his anti-gun agenda, so it sounds like he’s already on the same page as the gun control groups who are lobbying for a formal role in a Biden administration.