President Biden on Thursday will announce initial steps his administration plans to take on firearm safety, along with the nomination of a prominent gun safety advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The moves, which were previewed Wednesday evening by a senior administration official, come after recent high-profile mass shootings put added pressure on Biden to act on gun violence.
Biden will announce that the Justice Department will pursue two new regulations: one to curb the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, weapons that lack serial numbers and, in some cases, can be constructed at home; and a second that would regulate stabilizing braces, accessories that can be used to make pistols more like rifles.
Additionally, Biden plans to nominate David Chipman as ATF director. Chipman, who was a special agent at ATF for 25 years, is a senior policy adviser at Giffords, a gun safety group led by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who became an advocate after she was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, praised the selection of Chipman, who she said would have been her top choice for the job. “ATF is really the key agency that enforces our nation’s gun laws. And it has to have a confirmed director in order to do so, and in order to do the very best job it can. But it hasn’t had a confirmed director since 2015,” Watts told NPR.
There were few details available Wednesday about the proposed regulations for ghost guns and stabilizing braces. The Justice Department is set to issue the proposals within 30 days, and they will be open to comment through the regular federal rule-making process before they are finalized and take effect.
Gun safety groups lauded the proposed move on ghost guns. “They are being sold across this country in kits — not subject to any background checks, not subject to serialization,” Kris Brown, president of Brady United, said in an interview. “They are being used in crimes across this country. They are being purchased and used in crimes in record numbers.”
“That’s not minor — that’s big,” Brown said.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy slammed the actions.
“President Biden plans to announce his attempts to trample over our constitutional 2A rights by executive fiat,” McCarthy, of California, wrote on Twitter. “He is soft on crime, but infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens. I won’t stand for it. And neither will House Republicans. Follow the Constitution!”
Biden will also announce a series of smaller measures. Five agencies will make changes to 26 programs to free up funding for community violence intervention programs, the official said. The Justice Department will publish model legislation for states looking at proposing their own “red flag” laws, which make it possible to temporarily remove guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. The DOJ also will work on a comprehensive report on gun trafficking — something it hasn’t done since 2000 – to give lawmakers updated information.
Advocacy groups pushing the administration for action following mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado are expected to attend Thursday’s announcement, as well as community groups pressing for more attention on gun violence as a public health crisis.
Biden has called on the Senate to pass Democratic-led legislation the House passed that would require more stringent background checks for all gun sales and transfers and giving the FBI more time to conduct them, but he had not taken further steps, to the frustration of advocates to prevent gun violence.
Biden did tuck some $5 billion to support community-based violence prevention programs in his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan.
At his news conference last month, asked about what steps he would take on gun legislation, Biden said it was a matter of timing and then moved on to talk about the infrastructure proposal.
As a senator, Biden was active in efforts to ban so-called assault weapons, a prohibition that expired after 10 years, as well as the Brady law, which requires background checks for most but not all gun purchases.
As vice president, he also led former President Barack Obama’s effort to expand background checks after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, but the measure came to a halt in a Republican-led Senate filibuster.