This week, President Joe Biden issued a handful of executive orders that he says will address the nation’s alleged “epidemic” of gun violence. Among other things, the executive orders instructed the Department of Justice to issue new rules about the sale of “ghost guns” and pistol arm braces, as well as model “red flag law” legislation for states.
We don’t yet have the specific language the DOJ will eventually use in these rules, but two things are immediately clear. One is that these actions are primarily political stunts that can do very little to address gun violence. Second, they serve as notice to responsible gun owners that the White House doesn’t think very highly of their Second Amendment rights.
Biden’s over-the-top rhetoric is itself evidence of this. Despite years of gun control advocates decrying the nation’s “gun violence epidemic,” rates of gun homicide and overall gun crime in the United States are significantly lower today than in the early 1990s. This is true even though there has been a roughly equal increase in the number of privately owned guns per capita.
Additionally, putting aside very serious potential issues with executive agencies stretching statutory definitions past their logical bounds, neither regulating “ghost guns” nor making gun owners pay a $200 tax for pistol arm braces meaningfully addresses root causes of gun violence. These actions are, in fact, far more likely to turn responsible gun owners into felons than to prevent a single gun death.
These firearms and firearm components play almost no role whatsoever in suicides, which account for two-thirds of gun deaths every year. Meanwhile, even assuming that criminals will no longer have access to them, there are a plethora of other ways for them to obtain firearms that are functionally similar and can be used just as easily to commit the same crimes.
The biggest slap in the face to American gun owners, however, is President Biden’s nomination of gun control lobbyist David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It’s not just Chipman’s policy positions that are problematic, either. His disdain for the right to keep and bear arms is well known, as is his tendency to misstate basic facts about firearms. As former ATF agent himself, he ought to know better.
Last year, he openly and brazenly mocked the 8 million Americans who purchased a gun for the first time in 2020, suggesting they were afraid of zombies and derogatorily comparing them to “Tiger King.” In reality, these Americans exercised their Second Amendment rights for precisely the reason envisioned by the Constitution — a very real fear that civil society is fragile, and that the government is often unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from crime even during “normal times.” Nothing about 2020 was “normal.”
Every American wants safer communities and to ensure that criminals don’t have ready access to firearms. Unfortunately, instead of looking for effective bipartisan solutions, President Biden has decided to play politics in hopes that Americans won’t know any better.
Here’s hoping his cynicism is off-target.
Amy Swearer is a legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.