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Biden tightens some gun controls, says much more needed

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaks about gun violence prevention in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, calling gun violence in the United States an "epidemic" and a "public health crisis," announced six executive actions Thursday aimed at combating mass shootings, including increasing the regulation of so-called ghost guns assembled from parts purchased online.

"Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it's an international embarrassment," Biden said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, where he addressed an audience of gun-control activists that included parents who lost their children at school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut.

The president directed the Justice Department to draft measures to address the unregulated sale of kits used to assemble "ghost guns," which avoid background checks and remain largely untraceable, and said his administration will offer states recommendations to pass their own "red flag" laws aimed at giving authorities the ability to seize guns from individuals that a court has deemed present "a danger to themselves and to others."

Biden called his actions "just a start," and urged Congress to pass more sweeping gun-control legislation.

"They've offered plenty of thoughts and prayers ... but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence," Biden said. "Enough prayers. Time for some action."

The president urged the evenly split Senate to approve legislation passed by House Democrats earlier this year that would expand background checks to include private gun sales and extend the time allowed to conduct a check prior to finalizing a sale. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a tweet said he plans to "bring gun violence prevention legislation to the Senate floor for a vote," but Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), a critical swing vote, have said they will oppose the House bills, and instead have called for narrower background check legislation that solely focuses on commercial gun sales.

Biden has faced renewed calls to act on gun control in the wake of deadly mass shootings at a series of Atlanta area spas and a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket. The president, praising the families at the Rose Garden for their advocacy work, noted that he was unveiling his latest executive orders hours after five people, including two children, were shot to death in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Hours later, a mass shooting in Bryan, Texas, that killed one person and injured five others took place.

"This is an epidemic for God's sake, and it has to stop," Biden said.

Biden also announced the nomination of a prominent gun-control advocate, David Chipman, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency, which operates under the Department of Justice, has not had a permanent director since 2015, underscoring the political scrutiny surrounding the post. Chipman’s confirmation hinges on the 50-50 split Senate, where Democrats hold a slight lead with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote.

A Biden administration official, speaking to reporters before Biden’s announcement said Chipman worked at ATF for 25 years, first as a special agent and then as a supervisor.

"He helped with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and Oklahoma City bombing investigations," the official said. "He has overseen complex firearm trafficking cases. Most recently, he has worked to advance common sense gun safety policies."

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun owners advocacy group, immediately pushed back on Chipman’s nomination, saying that Biden plans to "put a gun-control lobbyist to head ATF."

The president, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland, said he has also directed the Justice Department to produce an annual report on firearms trafficking, and to draft a rule to that would make pistols fitted with separately sold "stabilizing braces" subject to federal regulations on assault rifles, including registering the weapon with the Justice Department.

"I want to be clear that these modifications to firearms that make them more lethal should be subject to the National Firearms Act," Biden said.

Last month, Schumer called on the Biden administration to address the issue of "ghost guns" and cited the efforts of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who in 2019 sent cease-and-desist letters to more than a dozen companies directing them not to sell the firearm pieces online to New Yorkers. James last month called for more federal action to further regulate the sale of ghost gun assembly kits.

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