President Joe Biden’s attempt to weaponize the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives against the firearms industry now includes going after gun stores as well as gun makers. On Wednesday afternoon the president and Attorney General Merrick Garland unveiled the administration’s new five-point plan aimed at reducing violent crime, but most of the actions that will be taken by federal agencies involve going after gun stores and not violent criminals themselves.
Biden is calling for a “zero tolerance” approach to gun stores that “willfully” violate ATF rules and regulations, throwing his weight behind the argument advanced by pro-gun control outlets like the Michael Bloomberg-funded The Trace that the agency is willing to overlook serious violations of law because of pressure applied by “the gun lobby.”
In his remarks, a low-energy and rambling Biden declared that we “know what works” to reduce violent crime, before renewing his calls for universal background checks and a ban on so-called assault rifles (which, by the way, did nothing to reduce violent crime, according to studies).
Biden also bizarrely claimed that the Second Amendment prohibited certain Americans from possessing firearms, as well as putting restrictions on owning items like cannons. As it turns out, this isn’t the first time that Biden has made the claim, even though historians dispute the idea.
To confirm Biden’s point, “you would need to point to something — a law, or a tradition, or a case where someone was not allowed to possess a cannon,” said University of Pennsylvania law professor Kermit Roosevelt.
But the Biden campaign was unable to point to a specific law. “The vice president’s point is that to help end the tragic epidemic of mass shootings that is taking so many American lives, we need to ban weapons of war from our streets,” the campaign told PolitiFact.
Historians say they are doubtful that there were laws to bar individual ownership of cannons during the Revolutionary War period.
“It seems highly unlikely that there were restrictions on the private ownership” of cannons, said Julie Anne Sweet, a historian and director of military studies at Baylor University.
David Kopel, the research director and Second Amendment project director at the free-market Independence Institute, agreed. “I am not aware of a ban on any arm in colonial America,” he said. “There were controls on people or locations, but not bans on types of arms.”
Politifact went on to rate Biden’s claim as “false,” but apparently he likes the talking point so much he decided to repeat it today (along with his lame line about deer wearing Kevlar vests that he originally used in an April address to Congress).
In fact, most of what Biden said today was a tired rehash of the arguments used by gun control advocates and anti-gun politicians over the years, whether violent crime is going up or is trending down.
As for Biden’s announced crackdown on federally licensed firearms retailers, the zero tolerance approach to all gun stores ironically runs counter to the arguments made by gun control activists for years now. Until very recently, anti-gun groups claimed that it’s only a small number of gun dealers that are to blame for illegal gun sales. Statistics from the gun control organization Brady showing that less than 5% of all FFL’s “provide the guns for 90% of crimes”, for instance, have been cited by anti-gun politicians like Rhode Island’s Jim Langevin, but Biden’s approach indicates that going forward, the ATF is going to be devoting its time and resources trying to prove that any and all violations, even paperwork errors, are “willful” and therefore should result in a store’s closure.
In fact, as California Rifle & Pistol Association president Chuck Michel points out on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, even a high number of traces of firearms sold from a particular dealer isn’t evidence of malfeasance on the part of the gun store. High volume dealers are more likely to have more firearms traced, but gun control activists have insisted that the number of traces can serve as a proxy to determine which gun stores are “bad apples.”
Now, maybe when Biden says “willful violations” he’s only talking about gun stores that are (in his words) selling guns out the back door, but that’s not really a big issue or a main source of firearms for criminals who want to get their hands on a gun. I’d argue that straw buys (in which a person buys a firearm for someone other than themselves) are a bigger deal, and defendants charged in federal court with making a false statement to acquire a firearms are routinely sentenced to probation for their crimes, but Biden made no mention of a zero tolerance policy for straw purchasers or others violating federal law to arm criminals.
Instead, his focus was on “rogue gun dealers,” which, along with his other attempts to use the ATF to go after legal gun owners in the name of fighting crime, makes me concerned that Biden will use the ATF to shutdown any gun store they can, even for the smallest of paperwork violations.
The truly sad thing about Biden’s speech today (besides his continued calls for criminalizing the possession of the most popular rifle in the country and selling a gun to your neighbor or best friend without putting them through a background check) is that there are proven strategies to reduce crime that don’t involve going after gun owners or gun shops. Take the DOJ program known as Project Ceasefire, which involves cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies along with community groups to identify the most prolific violent offenders and offer them an ultimatum: you’re going to stop shooting. We’ll help you if you let us, and we’ll make you if you don’t.
If offenders take advantage of the help, they can receive GED classes, job training and placement, and other services to help them leave gang life behind. Keep up with their criminal activity, however, and they’ll be arrested and charged in federal court with no opportunity to plead their cases down to a minor penalty or short time behind bars. This targeted policing program not only leads to large reductions in shootings and homicides, but by focusing on the most prolific offenders they typically lead to fewer overall arrests in the communities where the strategy is put in place.
Adopting Ceasefire as the centerpiece of his crime fighting strategy would have allowed Biden to please both Democrats who want to put an end to “mass incarceration” and Republicans who say we should be focused on criminals and not gun owners (or gun sellers, for that matter). Instead, Biden made his gun control allies happy, and that should make those concerned about issues like overpolicing and infringing on the Second Amendment rights of Americans very concerned.