On Tuesday, Vice President Joseph Biden announced a series of executive steps targeted at decreasing gun violence and the availability of firearms to criminals.
The president visited a community center in Monterey Park, California, where he met with victims’ relatives and community members who had been traumatized by a mass shooting in January that took the lives of 11 people and injured nine more.
Biden opened his remarks with a sorrowful tribute to the deaths at Star dancing studio, as well as Brandon Tsay, an employee at another ballroom dance hall who disarmed the gunman before he could begin shooting at a second site.
“We all saw a day of festivity and light change into a day of fear and darkness. A time of joy and celebration marred by terror and suffering… a sense of safety shattered,” Biden told the assembly. “Survivors will always carry the physical and emotional scars.”
Polls show that a majority of Democrats and Republicans are in favour of doing background checks on all gun buyers to determine if they have ever been convicted of a crime or been a domestic abuser. Yet with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, there is little likelihood of Congress heeding Biden’s pleas to adopt legislation.
This political reality will be acknowledged by the President as he makes a stop in California and announces an executive action to enforce existing rules against gun sellers who deliberately or otherwise do not currently do the background checks they should.
A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that last year’s bipartisan gun safety legislation, the most sweeping of its kind in three decades, “created an opening” for Biden to direct the attorney general to move the US as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation.
The official said that he will urge Garland to elaborate on the legal meaning of “involved in the business” of dealing in firearms. First, “to make clear that those who are willfully violating the law need to come into compliance with the law,” and second, “to make clear to people who may not realise that, under that statutory definition they are indeed in the business of selling firearms, and they must become federally licenced firearm dealers and run background checks before gun sales.”
The government contends that this will mean fewer weapons sold without background checks and consequently fewer guns ending up in the hands of criminals and domestic abusers. Garland will also develop a strategy to prevent illegal gun sales by individuals whose licences have been suspended or revoked.
Biden is also ordering his government to develop measures to aid those who survive and are directly affected by mass shootings, whether they are well publicised or not. There have been more than 100 mass shootings in the United States this year.
Many states have victim compensation schemes to recompense victims of violent crimes such as assault, robbery and homicide, and the department of justice allocates some money for states to disperse after mass violence under the antiterrorism and emergency assistance programme. This new federal measure is meant to supplement the efforts of local groups and residents in responding to mass shootings.
“Our pain counts no matter how many media cameras are there and how many news stories run on what happens,” said Greg Jackson, executive director of Community Justice Action Fund, a national non-profit that supports and campaigns for local violence prevention initiatives.
Following the mass shooting at Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York in May 2022, the organisation called on the White House to create support for victims and survivors of mass violence.
“For too long we were leaving local communities and survivors pick up the pieces and navigate through this,” Jackson added. “We haven’t got enough help on the ground, these [executive orders] are gonna require other agencies to join in the game.”
There will also be an effort to hold the gun business accountable by naming and shaming federally licenced guns dealers who are breaching the law. Records of ATF inspections of gun shops that have been cited for violations will be made public by Garland.
The executive order also wants to promote public knowledge of “red-flag” laws that allow anyone to petition a court to allow police to take weapons from a person determined dangerous to themselves or others.
The White House has pointed out that the public has to be educated on when and how to use these high risk protection orders in order for them to be effective. These orders have been passed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Biden’s cabinet will be urged to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, healthcare providers, educators and other community leaders to ensure their successful use and to advocate the safe storage of guns.
Pushing states to enhance their use of red flag laws has been a significant aspect of the administration’s measures to minimise gun violence following a historic single-year surge in homicides, largely with weapons.
This includes teaching teachers, police officers and healthcare providers on how and when they can petition a local court to acquire an order to have firearms confiscated from someone at risk of harming themselves or others. Yet the Biden administration is up against stiff criticism from local law enforcement who feel red flag laws infringe on people’s ability to carry and possess guns.
Numerous jurisdictions have enacted resolutions designating themselves as “second amendment sanctuaries,” where gun control and red-flag regulations will not be enforced. By 2021 about 2,000 US counties across 40 states had enacted some kind of such law, according to Gun Owners of America, a lobbying group that fights on behalf of handgun owners.
Even while Republicans and certain municipalities are expected to oppose the president’s initiatives, the senior administration official assured that they have widespread support. Except in Washington, DC, Congress, they are not contentious recommendations. The president’s proposed moves to implement nationwide background checks are sensible.
Similarly, the vast majority of Americans approve of safe storage and severe protection orders. The president is fulfilling the wishes of the majority of Americans for a strong and decisive leader in the nation’s capital.
Biden, who has previously called gun violence in America “an epidemic” and “international embarrassment”, will further order efforts to counter a sharp rise in the loss or theft of firearms during shipping, enlist the Pentagon in improving public safety practises and encourage the Federal Trade Commission to issue a report analysing how gun makers market firearms to children, including through the use of military imagery.
On top of that, he plans to advocate for increased federal funding for those affected by gun violence. In a news statement, the White House mentioned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps out after a natural disaster like a storm.
But when a mass shooting does so, “no coordinated US government mechanism exists to meet short- and long-term needs, such as mental health care for grief and trauma, financial assistance (for example, when a family loses the sole breadwinner or when a small business is shut down due to a lengthy shooting investigation), and food (for example, when the Buffalo shooting closed down the only grocery store in the neighbourhood)”.