The executive actions are aimed at taking certain guns out of the hands of criminals and pouring resources into community violence prevention, and a senior administration official cautioned that Thursday’s announcement is just an initial set of actions that the new President is taking. Their limited scope once again underscores Biden’s broader challenge as he faces an evenly split US Senate.
It is a policy area that has been at the top of the President’s agenda for decades. His lifetime of work on gun control has been bookended by one of his most significant legislative achievements — the 1994 assault weapons ban — and one of his deepest disappointments, the failure of background check legislation following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The initial list of executive actions that Biden will announce doesn’t come close to the magnitude of either of those proposals or the sweeping changes many activists had hoped to see after the recent mass shootings that killed eight people at spas in Atlanta and 10 people at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.
Gridlock on Capitol Hill
Democratic members of Congress held strategy sessions late last month to explore the most viable steps they could take on gun control, hoping to use public outrage about those recent shootings as a catalyst for legislative progress. Biden made his own plea to Congress not to wait “another” minute to take “common sense steps that will save lives.”
But once again Democrats’ chances for success will hinge on the cooperation of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who appears to be relishing his role as the lynchpin of virtually every legislative endeavor in the 50-50 divided Senate.
At this juncture, it remains unclear how much political capital either Biden or Manchin are willing to devote to gun control at a time when the nation is distracted by the pandemic, vaccine distribution, the economic recovery and Biden’s massive infrastructure bill, which is the administration’s primary focus at the moment.
Beyond Manchin’s objections, there is no indication at this point that Democratic senators are on track to win the considerable GOP support they would need to overcome a filibuster on gun legislation. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, told CNN’s Capitol Hill team late last month that there was “no timeline” for bringing the House-passed background check bills to the floor, adding that he and his colleagues were “working very, very hard to reach a consensus.”
Biden targets ‘ghost guns’
As Biden well knows, that dream of consensus has long proved…