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Biden Orders Gun Control Actions       04/09 06:20

   President Joe Biden put on a modest White House ceremony Thursday to 
announce a half-dozen executive actions to combat what he called an "epidemic 
and an international embarrassment" of gun violence in America.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden put on a modest White House ceremony 
Thursday to announce a half-dozen executive actions to combat what he called an 
"epidemic and an international embarrassment" of gun violence in America.

   But he said much more is needed. And while Biden had proposed the most 
ambitious gun-control agenda of any modern presidential candidate, his moves 
underscored his limited power to act alone on guns with difficult politics 
impeding legislative action on Capitol Hill.

   Biden's new steps include a move to crack down on "ghost guns," homemade 
firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and are often purchased 
without a background check. He's also moving to tighten regulations on 
pistol-stabilizing braces like the one used in Boulder, Colorado, in a shooting 
last month that left 10 dead.

   The president's actions delivered on a pledge he made last month to take 
what he termed immediate "common-sense steps" to address gun violence, after a 
series of mass shootings drew renewed attention to the issue. His announcement 
came the day after yet another episode, this one in South Carolina, where five 
people were killed.

   But his orders stop well short of some of his biggest campaign-trail 
proposals, including his promise to ban the importation of assault weapons, his 
embrace of a voluntary gun buyback program and a pledge to provide resources 
for the Justice Department and FBI to better enforce the nation's current gun 
laws and track firearms.

   And while gun control advocates lauded Thursday's moves as a strong first 
step in combating gun violence, they, too, acknowledged that action from 
lawmakers on Capitol Hill is needed to make lasting change.

   "Some of the other big-ticket items are legislative," said Josh Horowitz, 
executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "And that's going to 
be very difficult."

   Biden mentioned a formidable list of priorities he'd like to see Congress 
tackle, including passing the Violence Against Women Act, eliminating lawsuit 
exemptions for gun manufacturers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity 
magazines. He also called on the Senate to take up House-passed measures to 
close background check loopholes.

   But with an evenly-divided Senate -- and any gun control legislation 
requiring 60 votes to pass -- Democrats would have to keep every member of 
their narrow majority on board while somehow adding 10 Republicans.

   Horowitz said "it's hard to think" who those Republicans would be, and 
though that doesn't mean it's impossible to move on gun control "we're going to 
have to change some of the people who are in the Senate."

   Gun control advocates say the National Rifle Association's legal and 
financial issues have greatly weakened the once mighty pro-gun lobby and helped 
turn the public tide in favor of some restrictions on gun ownership. They say a 
shift in public perception will eventually trickle down to Republicans on 
Capitol Hill.

   But so far that hasn't materialized in votes. The House passed two bills in 
March largely along party lines that would expand and strengthen background 
checks for gun sales and transfers, a move that has broad public support. But 
most Republicans argue that strengthened checks could take guns away from 
law-abiding gun owners.

   A small, bipartisan group of senators is trying to find compromise based on 
a 2013 deal that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and 
internet sales but was rejected then by five votes. Democratic Sen. Chris 
Murphy of Connecticut said at a rally in his state last week that he is talking 
to his colleagues every day to come a deal, and that he believes the public is 
more supportive than ever of changes.

   Murphy acknowledged last weekend on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the 
background check bill that passed the House isn't likely to succeed in the 
Senate, but he suggested a more narrowly tailored bill might, and said he was 
working to build on that legislation to win over Republican support.

   "You are going to have to make some reasonable accommodations if you want 10 
Republican votes. And I am already talking to Republicans who are not unwilling 
to sit down at the table," he said.

   Even some of the limited moves Biden took Thursday had already been making 
their way through the bureaucracy.

   The federal government has been working on a proposed rule that would change 
the definition of a firearm to include lower receivers, the essential piece of 
a semiautomatic rifle, in an effort to combat the proliferation of "ghost guns" 
and stave off losing court battles on the issue.

   The process started in the waning months of the Trump administration, 
according to four people familiar with the matter. Justice Department leaders 
and officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had 
been working on language for a proposed rule since at least summer 2020, they 
said.

   The proposal had gone through several layers of review by agency attorneys 
by last fall, and ATF officials have met with gun manufacturers and others to 
discuss the possibility of expanding the definition of a firearm, the people 
said.

   They could not publicly discuss the details of the process and spoke to The 
Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

   While Biden said the moves he took Thursday were just the beginning of his 
administration's actions on guns, it's not known what further steps he'll be 
willing -- or able -- to take.

   With Biden already focused on passing his $2.3 trillion infrastructure 
package, after delivering a massive COVID-19 relief bill, it's unclear how much 
political capital he has to spend to get any gun-control bills across the 
finish line. Asked last month if he felt he had the political sway to pass new 
gun laws, Biden told reporters: "I don't know. I haven't done any counting yet."

   Some activists, while they praised Biden for his executive actions Thursday, 
said they wanted to see him more actively involved in the fight on Capitol Hill.

   "I think he needs to engage directly and I think he needs to be counting the 
votes. I'm not sure what he's waiting for," said Igor Volsky, executive 
director of Guns Down America.

   Volsky said his group would like to see Biden lay out a comprehensive 
package of reforms focused on gun violence, similar to what the administration 
has done on immigration. And he said Biden "could do more in using the 
presidential bully pulpit" to communicate with the public about the need for 
gun control measures and to pressure Congress to act.

   "As he pointed out on the campaign trail, repeatedly, there's no time to 
wait to act on this issue. So my view is that this should be a priority for 
him," Volsky said.

 
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