President Joe Biden launched his first salvo at curbing gun violence this month with a slate of six executive orders aimed at regulating gun ownership, addressing mass shootings, and installing new leadership in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
In a speech announcing the orders, President Biden billed gun-related violence as an “epidemic” and insisted his actions don’t infringe on the Second Amendment because “no amendment in the Constitution is absolute.”
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. Let me say it again: Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” he said. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as nation.”
Gun rights groups predictably condemned the actions as a targeted attack on lawful gun owners.
“These actions could require Americans to surrender lawful property, push states to expand confiscation orders, and put a gun control lobbyist to head ATF,” the National Rifle Association posted on Twitter. “Biden is dismantling the 2nd Amendment. It's time to STAND and FIGHT!”
The Second Amendment Foundation, which focuses primarily on pro-gun litigation, vowed to sue if Biden’s Department of Justice crosses the line.
“The devil will be in the details,” acknowledged SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “Our legal team will review them, and we are prepared to file suit if Biden and his administration steps over their legal authority.”
Here are three things you need to know about President Biden's executive gun orders.
Alone, Orders Don’t Do Much
Biden issued six executive orders, but only three of them have a direct impact on firearms and firearm ownership.
The president directed his Justice Department to first issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” second to issue a proposed rule to make clear when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act, and third to publish model “red flag” legislation for states.
“Ghost guns” refer to firearms without serial numbers that are manufactured at home. For many years, the ATF has allowed companies to sell kits that contain all the unregulated firearm parts along with “80% receivers.” These receivers house the fire control group (i.e., the trigger) and would usually be considered firearms subject to federal restrictions. But because these receivers are unfinished—they require tools and expertise to turn into functioning parts—they can be purchased without the usual paperwork and background check.
Stabilizing braces were originally designed for veterans who had lost an arm in battle. They allow an AR-style pistol or similar firearm to be fired with one hand. In this configuration, they are considered pistols and are not subject to requirements that govern most short-barreled rifles (rifles with barrels less than 16 inches). The ATF has ruled inconsistently on whether stabilizing braces automatically turn an AR-pistol into a short-barreled rifle for non-disabled users. The agency allowed the practice for many years, but recently issued (and then retracted) a rule requiring gun owners whose firearms are outfitted with stabilizing braces to either remove the devices or register their short-barreled rifles.
The Justice Department has between 30 and 60 days to publish the details of each proposal, so it’s difficult to say how far the administration will go to restrict the ownership of “ghost guns” and stabilizing braces. The gun safety lobby wants both to be outlawed, and there’s no reason to believe Biden’s Justice Department won’t toe the party line.
The other three orders increase funding for “community violence intervention” programs, direct the DOJ to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking, and nominate David Chipman to serve as the director of the ATF.
The last order has also earned the ire of the pro-gun community. Chipman was an ATF agent for 25 years, but he recently joined the gun regulation group Giffords as a senior policy advisor. Chipman has been outspoken about his dislike of the current state of federal firearms law, particularly the common ownership of so-called “assault weapons” like AR-and AK-47s.
More Actions Will Follow
Biden reiterated that these executive orders are only the first phase of his firearms campaign. “This is just the start,” he told reporters. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
In a press release announcing the orders, the administration called on Congress to approve the remainder of the president’s gun agenda, including banning most private gun sales, ARs, and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Biden also wants to remove policies that protect gun manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits and pass a nationwide “red flag” law.
Biden reiterated his support for red flag laws in his latest set of orders, and the policy could be the only one that stands a chance of passing the sharply divided U.S. Senate.
Standards vary, but the red flag laws that have been passed by state legislatures usually allow law enforcement or a family member to request an order to confiscate a person’s firearms. Supporters say these laws can keep someone from harming themselves or others with a firearm, but opponents worry they can be used to strip someone’s Second Amendment rights without due process. While most orders are temporary, red flag laws usually allow law enforcement to remove firearms before a hearing at which the person is present.
Moderate Republicans have voiced support for the policies, and it’s possible Democrats could convince 10 Republicans to join them and break the Senate filibuster. Time will tell.
The Ammo Shortage Will Go On
Industry experts we spoke with back in January worried that the actions and rhetoric of the Biden administration could intensify the nationwide ammo shortage. If Biden stays away from the issue, ammo companies might be able to catch up by the end of the year. If the president engages in “saber rattling,” as Hornady’s Neil Davies put it, hunters should expect the shortage to continue.
It looks like we have our answer. Biden’s orders are only the tip of the iceberg, but they’re more than enough to restart the panic buying cycle that has emptied shelves for the last 12 months.
Not enough time has passed to fully judge the effect of Biden’s rhetoric on the nationwide gun buying landscape, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s having the expected effect. Thousands of people attended a gun show in Florida over the weekend, and Victor Bean, the owner of Southern Classic Gun and Knife Shows, told local media the he had Biden to thank.
“Anytime something comes out of Washington and they say the word ‘gun,’ everything goes up,” Bean said.