President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a long-awaited package of executive actions to curb gun violence Thursday at the White House, according to four people familiar with the plan.
The announcement comes nearly three months into Biden’s term in office, a delay that had frustrated activists who wanted the president to fulfill a campaign pledge to take action on gun violence on his first day in office. That frustration only grew after a slate of mass shootings in Colorado, Georgia and California.
Biden will direct the administration to begin the process of requiring buyers of so-called ghost guns — homemade or makeshift firearms that lack serial numbers — to undergo background checks, according to three people who have spoken to the White House about the plans. He is expected to be joined at the event by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Other executive actions remain unclear. But stakeholders have speculated that the president could announce regulations on concealed assault-style firearms; prohibitions on firearm purchases for those convicted of domestic violence against their partners; and federal guidance on home storage safety measures.
More than 100 House Democrats wrote to Biden last week, urging him to take action on the concealed assault-style firearms, which is similar to the one used in the Colorado shooting in which 10 people were killed.
One other announcement Biden could make on Thursday is the introduction of his nominee to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who will play a key role in any executive branch action on guns. His nominee could be tough to get through a Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. The ATF has had mostly acting directors since the position became Senate-confirmed. Todd Jones was confirmed as ATF director in 2013 after a years-long stint as acting director.
In response to criticism from gun control advocacy groups that his administration has moved too slowly on executive actions, the Biden White House has responded that legislative fixes are a priority. Biden is likely to make the same point on Thursday, in addition to expressing support for bills to expand background checks and close the so-called Charleston loophole that allows a gun to be transferred from licensed gun dealers before a completed background check. He also is likely to push for legislation to keep guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others, as well as a ban of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
The White House declined to comment. But a senior administration official recently confirmed the White House was wrapping up their actions and could announce them in a series of stages.
Biden’s expected announcement comes as gun sales have skyrocketed amid a year of pandemic quarantines, a summer of racial unrest, and the president’s victory in the 2020 election, during which he promised an aggressive push to reduce gun violence. The year 2020 saw a record number of gun homicides in the United States.
“The administration has been working hard from Day One to pursue actions to reduce gun violence,” the senior administration official said recently. “We understand the urgency. No one understands the urgency more than the president and are looking forward to rolling out some of the initial actions we can take.”
The White House has held several meetings on gun violence with prominent groups pushing for gun restrictions, community-based groups, and survivors of gun violence. The meetings were led by Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement.
Community-based groups cheered Biden’s decision to include $5 billion for community violence prevention programs in the $2 trillion infrastructure package he unveiled last week.
“With this investment of our federal tax dollars, we have an unprecedented opportunity to build an infrastructure of peace to heal and disrupt cycles of violence,” said a coalition of community groups dubbed Fund Peace that pushed for funding.
Biden has a lengthy history of dealing with gun legislation, though his most recent effort ended in notable failure. After the shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama asked his then vice president to push through what he had hoped would be the biggest firearms restrictions since the Clinton administration. But after months of meetings and limited executive actions, a bill to require expanded background checks died on the Senate floor.
The Senate is even less Democratic now, split 50-50. Any bill would require at least 10 Republicans to vote with all Democrats, which is unlikely.
Igor Volsky, executive director of the advocacy group Guns Down America, said he hoped Biden would unveil a comprehensive plan that includes regulations, executive actions, funding and a strategy to get legislation through Congress.
“The president didn’t just run on executive actions when it comes to gun violence,” Volsky said. “He promised to put forward a robust comprehensive plan for reducing gun violence. Given the violence he inherited, we expect him to live up at the promise.”