It’s been more than two weeks since Joe Biden was sworn in as president, but gun control activists are still waiting for Biden to enact any of the executive actions that he declared would be coming if he took office. March For Our Lives’ David Hogg called for action on MSNBC this past Sunday, including the creation of a cabinet-adjacent position called the Director of Gun Violence Prevention. Hogg’s comment prompted administration official Susan Rice to tell host Jonathan Capeheart in a later segment that the administration was looking forward to “partnering” with anti-gun groups.
Four days later, still no anti-gun executive orders. On Thursday press secretary Jen Psaki was quizzed about the presidential inaction by NBC White House reporter Peter Alexander, but Psaki didn’t offer much of an answer.
Psaki responded, “As Vice President, and even before that, the President took on the NRA twice and won. This is an issue he is personally committed to, many in this building are personally committed to, I think he would love to see action on additional gun safety measures to protect families and children.”
Alexander followed by asking when Biden “would he take action and put something before Congress?”
Psaki simply responded she believes there are some proposals before Congress already.
I’m not sure why Alexander was so interested in Biden’s gun control legislative agenda instead of asking why, if gun control was a “day one priority” for the president he hasn’t signed any executive orders on firearms. In fact, Alexander was pretty dismissive of any potential executive action, telling Psaki that “we know there is only so much he can do by executive action on it.”
While that may be true, it’s also going to be a lot easier for Biden to sign an executive order than get his gun ban through Congress, at least at the moment. It seems odd to me that Alexander would brush off the executive actions that Biden proposed as a candidate, including banning the importation of modern sporting rifles and directing the ATF to change the definition of a firearm to encompass unfinished frames and receivers.
It’s also odd for Alexander to have focused on legislation given the fact that gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, which spent tens of millions of dollars to elect Biden, have put out their own list of demands that Biden can adopt without having to go through Congress. Everytown’s founder and chief funder Michael Bloomberg has even used his personal news network to push for Biden to impose new orders dealing with firearms.
Joe Biden’s election and the prospect of a slender Democratic majority in the Senate have vastly improved the chance of progress on gun safety. (The National Rifle Association’s difficulties — it filed for bankruptcy last week — might help, too.) The new administration should push Congress to vote on legislation to crack down on illegal gun sales and keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people. If Republicans persist in blocking common-sense reforms, Biden should use executive authority to act on his own…
Biden will have to be realistic. Moving legislation through a closely divided Senate won’t be easy, and the administration’s attention will be focused, to begin with, on defeating the pandemic and reviving the economy. But the new president can make an early start by standing up an inter-agency task force to coordinate action across the executive branch, and by supporting cities, states, grassroots organizations and businesses in countering the influence of the gun lobby.
So, Biden himself said that gun control was going to be a day one priority. Gun control groups have offered him a “roadmap” of executive actions that he could take without getting Congress involved. Even the media is starting to wonder why Biden hasn’t acted on his gun control agenda beyond halting a rule by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that would have ended discrimination against the firearms industry by large financial institutions. What’s going on?
There are a few possibilities, but ultimately I suspect it boils down to politics. Biden’s been in Washington, D.C. for 47 years and he knows how to work the legislative branch and the media to suit his agenda. Going for a big ticket item like his proposed gun and magazine ban is going to be controversial and inflammatory, and right now Biden wants his narrative to be about unity and healing. His top priority at the moment is passing as big a stimulus bill as he can get away with, which is smart. Would you want the early days of your presidency to be defined by giving people money or taking their guns away?
Still, while that might explain Biden’s inaction on legislation, it doesn’t explain why he hasn’t moved on any executive actions dealing with firearms. He may actually be playing it smart; recognizing that any executive action he takes regarding firearms is going to lead to another surge in sales of guns across the country. If your goal really is to limit the proliferation of firearms and you accept that the introduction or the threat of gun control tends to cause an increase in firearm sales, you’d probably come to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to lie low on the issue and let tensions decrease a little.
That’s probably giving Biden too much credit, however. I think while he wants the narrative to be about unity and mending fences, in practice I think he’s as partisan as any other lifelong politician in D.C. When it comes to executive orders, it’s probably still a matter of political timing more than anything else. Once Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is over and the COVID relief bill has been signed by Biden, the media environment will be much better for Biden to announce movement on his gun control agenda. There are simply too many other stories sucking the oxygen out of the room at the moment.
I also expect that when Biden does turn his attention to gun control, we’ll see several executive actions taken and announced at once. It will be more of a news “event” and not just a quick talking point in Psaki’s daily press briefing. The anti-gun activists may be getting antsy about Biden’s inaction, but I really don’t think they’re going to have to wait much longer for the president to make his first moves against the right to keep and bear arms.