Biden announces new executive actions on gun control

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 5:54 p.m. ET, April 8, 2021
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11:56 a.m. ET, April 8, 2021

Last month's mass shootings reignited calls for gun control in Washington

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny

Mourners place flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the attack outside the King Soopers grocery store on March 24, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado. 
Mourners place flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the attack outside the King Soopers grocery store on March 24, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado.  Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

President Biden used the latest mass shooting last month to offer his most vocal push for gun control since taking office, saying the deaths of 10 people at a grocery store in Colorado should jolt Washington and the nation into action.

It was a message past presidents have also wielded to disappointing results.

But Biden — who has a lengthy and mixed record on the issue — signaled he was ready to press for legislation even as he balances other priorities in Congress.

In somber remarks from the White House State Dining Room, he said he would do everything in his power to keep Americans safe and pushed a pair of House-passed gun reforms, including a universal background checks measure and an assault weapons ban.

The President had made no mention of gun control in the aftermath of the Atlanta shooting — including during remarks after visiting the city — choosing to focus instead on a recent spate of violent crimes committed against Asian-Americans.

But he faced increasing pressure to voice an opinion on the matter after the subsequent mass killing in Colorado.

Some more background: As the nation's posture on guns has evolved, Biden has been front-and-center at most every stop along the way for more than three decades, from the triumph of a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994 to the disappointment of a failed push for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

But now Biden commands a bully pulpit that he's never had in the debate over guns in America, facing the challenge of how — or whether — to wield the power of the White House to try and make some type of gun reform legislation a reality.

The shootings in Georgia and Colorado come in the first chapter of his presidency, prompting a discussion inside the West Wing over how much political capital Biden should expend on the matter, which has so often ended in frustration. But the debate comes at a time when the powerful gun lobby is divided and weakened, creating what some allies see as a possible opening for Biden.

11:15 a.m. ET, April 8, 2021

March For Our Lives welcomes Biden's actions on guns, but outlines further measures he should take 

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

March For Our Lives, the youth-led gun violence prevention organization that formed in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in 2018, welcomed President Biden’s initial actions on gun violence prevention, but is asking the President to take further measures against guns, the group said in a statement Thursday.

“After struggling to be seen, heard and valued by the former administration, President Biden’s executive actions to address gun violence are a welcomed pivot toward human-centered policies that will create a safer society. Young people have called for bold, forceful action to end this crisis and we are encouraged to see the administration begin to fulfill some of its campaign promises, especially in the wake of a series of preventable gun tragedies,” March For Our Lives said.

March For Our Lives says it is encouraged that Biden is addressing everyday gun violence during his first 100 days in office by planning to invest in intervention programs in violence-prone communities and tighten restrictions on so-called “ghost guns.” 

But the group has also asked Biden to take further executive actions to close the “boyfriend loophole” — to prohibit dating partners convicted of assault or stalking from purchasing firearms — is calling on Biden to place more accountability on gun manufacturers and has asked Biden to appoint a Director of Gun Violence Prevention.

“Biden’s executive actions are a critical step forward to treating the gun violence epidemic as a public health crisis,” Daud Mumin, 19-year-old student board member of March For Our Lives, told CNN.

Following the tragic school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and faculty members dead in 2018, March For Our Lives has grown into a student-led movement with over 300 chapters across the country.

11:22 a.m. ET, April 8, 2021

Gun background checks soared to a record in March

From CNN's Chauncey Alcorn

The FBI conducted more background checks for firearms purchases in March — a month in which several prominent mass shootings reignited America's conversation about gun control — than they have in any month so far this year.

About 4.7 million Americans initiated gun background checks last month — a 36% increase from February, according to the FBI.

More than two million of those checks were for new gun purchases, according to the National Shooting Sports Federation, the firearms industry trade group that compares FBI background check numbers with actual sales data to determine its sales figures.

The new guns purchased in March make it the second highest month on record for firearms sales, according to NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva, who said the threat of looming gun control legislation was the catalyst for last months sales surge.

NSSF data shows last month's sales were surpassed only by the estimated 2.3 million guns sold in March 2020, when the spread of Covid-19 have caused Americans to horde guns and bullets in addition to toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

"It is clear that firearm sales in March were driven by gun control calls from politicians to ban entire classes of firearms and enact onerous gun laws," Oliva told CNN Business via email Thursday afternoon.

11:14 a.m. ET, April 8, 2021

The House passed two gun-control bills last month. Now the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

From CNN's Jessica Dean, Ali Zaslav and Daniella Diaz

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Senate Democrats say they will move forward on new gun legislation, promising to bring a bill expanding background checks on all firearm sales to the floor for a vote, despite the uphill climb ahead to garner the 60 votes needed for it to pass.

The promise for a Senate vote came after the House passed two pieces of legislation expanding background checks on March 11.

"H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate and we will see where everybody stands," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which would expand background checks for all firearm sales or transfers in the country. "No more thoughts and prayers. A vote is what we need. A vote."

Getting the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster on the bill remains a difficult feat, despite optimism from one of the bill's sponsors.

"I don't think we should accept that there aren't 60 votes in the Senate for universal background checks," Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat of Connecticut said last month. "So much has changed. The political power of the anti-gun violence movement is infinitely stronger, the (National Rifle Association) is a shell of itself, and so I've had a lot of Republican members come to me and express their willingness to take a new look."

Schumer acknowledged the possibility the vote will fail.

Still, Democrats see this as an opportunity to get Republicans on the record with their votes against background checks, which remain a popular idea among Americans.

In Oct. 2019, Pew reported that "large majorities in both parties continue to favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks."

In remarks following the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, President Biden called on Congress to take steps like re-enacting an assault weapons ban. 

"I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future, and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act," Biden said.

11:01 a.m. ET, April 8, 2021

These are the actions on gun control Biden is expected to announce today

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden will take his first, limited actions on gun control today, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately.

Biden will make the announcement today at 11:45 a.m. ET from the White House alongside his attorney general, Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department will be responsible for drafting the proposed rules.

The steps — which also include nominating a gun control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — fulfill a commitment Biden made in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last month to take "common sense" steps right away to address gun violence.

But they fall short of the sweeping actions Biden promised as a candidate that must be passed by Congress, including a ban on assault weapons or enacting universal background checks. Senior administration officials framed the upcoming announcements as initial steps that would be followed by additional actions later on, including applying pressure on lawmakers to act.

Here are key things to know about the actions:

  • Ghost guns are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don't have serial numbers. Some can be fabricated in as little as 30 minutes using kits and parts purchased online. Biden will direct the Justice Department to issue a proposed rule to "stop the proliferation" of those weapons, though a senior administration official previewing the step declined to elaborate on how specifically the rule — due in 30 days – might work.
  • Another proposed rule would target stabilizing braces for pistols, which aid in the weapons' accuracy and manage recoil. Under the new rule, the devices — which the senior administration official contended turn pistols into short barreled rifles — would be covered by regulations in the National Firearms Act, including requiring registration. Last month's mass shooter in Boulder, Colorado, used a pistol modified with an arm brace, according to a law enforcement source.
  • Biden also plans to announce new investments in intervention programs in violence-prone communities; a directive to the Justice Department to publish model "red flag" laws for states that allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others; and a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking.

Some more background: Following last month's shootings, Biden called on Congress to take steps like re-enacting an assault weapons ban. But he acknowledged during a news conference that his main legislative priority was passing an infrastructure package and that he believed careful timing was key to the success of any proposed bills.

Taken together, the actions amount to the first real steps by Biden's administration to combat gun violence. While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.