Just a couple of weeks ago, after the House passed a pair of background check-related gun control bills, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to bring the bills to the Senate floor for a vote. Since then, however, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446 have yet to receive a committee hearing, much less a vote that would put the measures before a vote of all 100 senators.
Now Schumer seems to be avoiding any talk of a vote on the background check bills and is instead throwing his weight behind the idea of the Biden administration taking executive action on gun control.
“Amid the pain of another senseless shooting in this country, Americans are clamoring for the feds to do something, and so I’m calling for DOJ and ATF to use their existing authorities to act,” Schumer said. “The lights are flashing red on the issue of ghost guns and the rising threat posed by these totally unregulated, available-to-anyone, no-background-check-required weapons. That is why we are demanding the feds take action now, before these easy-to-use assembly kits result in another foreseeable and preventable tragedy.”
The White House too seems to be settling on the idea of trying to redefine (or at least reinterpret) the federal definition of a firearm to include unfinished frames and receivers, and potentially 3D-printed guns as well.
“We’re looking at what kind of authority I have relative to imported weapons – as well as whether or not I have the authority,” the Democratic president told reporters in Delaware.
Biden also mentioned “these new weapons that are being made by 3D equipment that aren’t registered as guns at all. There may be some latitude there as well.”
… The White House has said it needs to review potential actions to ensure they have a solid basis in law and can survive an expected legal challenge.
“They have to go through a review process,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Psaki said Biden would sign an executive order on guns but did not say when, adding, “We have to address this epidemic, address the threat of gun violence across many avenues. And he will. He’s committed to doing that.”
How far can Biden go via executive action? Not as far as gun control advocates would like, but there is precedent for banning the importation of firearms determined by the ATF to be “nonsporting.” Back in 1989, then-President George H.W. Bush banned the importation of almost four dozen specific models of semi-automatic rifles based on the ATF’s “sporting test,” though the ban was never challenged in court.
Because that ban was based on largely cosmetic characteristics of the firearm like a bayonet lug and collapsible stocks, foreign manufacturers also were able to tweak their design in order to comply with the new ATF regulations, which would almost certainly happen again if Biden were to invoke the Bush-era import ban.
As for trying to regulate or ban the building of homemade firearms via executive order, Biden’s going to face a steeper hurdle, legally speaking. Last year, a coalition of gun control groups and California’s then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra (now Biden’s HHS Secretary) sued the ATF in federal court demanding that the agency include DIY gun kits and unfinished gun parts in their definition of a firearm, but for now at least the agency is defending its current rules in court. And since the ATF’s regulations state that only items that can be “readily converted” into firearms are covered under the Gun Control Act, I don’t think that Biden could impose any kind of ban on the printing of a firearm from a 3D printer… at least not without facing a lawsuit.
Chuck Schumer may want the White House to take the lead on gun control, but Biden himself has repeatedly stated that he believes Congress should be doing more on the issue. Of course, gun control activists want both the legislative and executive branches to get to work implementing their agenda, but for now it looks like executive orders have a better chance of being implemented (and litigated) before any gun control bills get a vote in the Senate.