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President Biden wants to stop gun violence in America. What can he do?

Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday that it’s a ‘false choice’ between gun control reform and the Second Amendment

President Joe Biden speaks to members of the press on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 23, 2021, after stepping off Marine One. Biden was returning from Columbus, Ohio.
President Joe Biden speaks to members of the press on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 23, 2021, after stepping off Marine One. Biden is returning from Columbus, Ohio.
Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

President Joe Biden has spent much of his political career fighting for gun control legislation. As a former senator and vice president, Biden worked on weapons ban laws and as a presidential candidate pledged that, if elected, he would use executive action to continue that fight.

Last year, nearly 20,000 Americans died from gun violence, The Washington Post reported. The death toll was the highest annual total “in at least two decades,” according to the Post.

But what power does the president have when it comes to tackling gun violence in America?

On Tuesday, a day after the Boulder, Colorado, mass shooting that left 10 people dead, the president called on lawmakers to “immediately pass” legislation he said would curb gun violence in the county.

“We can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country once again,” Biden told the American people — and Congress. The president then urged the Senate to pass a pair of House gun control bills that “close the loopholes in our background check system.

“This is not, and should not be, a partisan issue. This is an American issue,” Biden added.

In an interview with CBS News’ “This Morning” Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris criticized the “false choice” that gun reform would interfere with American’s constitutional rights.

“This is not about getting rid of the Second Amendment, it’s simply about saying we need reasonable gun safety laws,” the vice president told “This Morning.” Harris, like Biden, called on the Senate to pass the two gun control bills which have already passed the House.

When asked if the Biden administration was “prepared to take executive action,” citing a potential lack of votes in the Senate, Harris reiterated to the CBS New’s hosts that she was unwilling to give up on the possibility that Congress could pass gun reform.

“If we pass legislation, it’s permanent. If the Congress acts, then it becomes law. And that is what we have lacked,” the vice president explained.

The House bills

Harris told “This Morning” that Biden was ready to sign a pair of bills, which passed the House earlier this month, but first need to pass the Senate.

Those two bills, House Resolution 8 and House Resolution 1446, would increase background checks for firearms purchases.

  1. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, HR8, “prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check,” according to a summary of the bill. The legislation passed the House 227-203, with eight Republicans joining all but one Democrat.
  2. The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, HR1446, “revises background check requirements,” increasing the required wait time for a background check from three business days to at least 10, reads a summary of the legislation. The bill passed the House 219-210. Two members of each party broke from caucus lines, with a pair of Democrats voting against the bills and a two Republicans voting for it.

The latter bill would close the “Charleston loophole” in background checks, Politico reported, which allows firearms “sales to proceed after three business days, even if an FBI background check is incomplete.”

Neither of the bills would ban assault rifles or high capacity magazines.

Executive orders

Absent from the president’s White House speech on Tuesday was any affirmation that Biden would sign an executive order targeted at stymieing gun violence, leaving unfulfilled a “campaigned promise to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office repealing liability protections for gun manufacturers and closing background-check loopholes,” The Washington Post reported.

“The Biden administration has not detailed any executive actions he might take on gun policy even though lawmakers and advocates have suggested dozens they could implement,” Politico reports.

But executive action hasn’t been ruled out by the White House yet.

  • According to The Washington Post, the White House was considering executive action, and had been for weeks, but administration officials didn’t say when that could happen.
  • “We are certainly considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive actions to address not just gun safety measures, but violence in communities,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said to reporters Tuesday, The Post reported.

Biden “knows how to make progress on reducing gun violence using executive action,” the Biden-Harris campaign website says, citing the the Obama-Biden White House’s “more than two dozen actions” on gun violence.