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Biden’s new steps on gun violence met with cautious applause, some criticism

Some gun safety advocates say the president has not moved quickly or boldly enough in the year since he unveiled a raft of executive gun control actions.

President Joe Biden’s latest measures to curb shootings and combat homemade, untraceable firearms known as ghost guns were met Monday with cautious applause and some criticism from those who say the president has not moved fast or boldly enough in the year since he unveiled a raft of executive gun control actions. 

At an afternoon news conference, Biden said the parts used to make ghost guns will fall under the same regulations as firearms, meaning those who sell the weapon, which is increasingly favored among criminals, will have to be licensed and background checks will have to be conducted before sales, while manufacturers must ensure the parts have serial numbers.

Many gun safety advocates hailed the crackdown as a vital step in stemming the flow of ghost guns, which can be assembled at home in minutes using do-it-yourself kits. But several others said the new policy should have come much sooner amid a surge in gun violence.

“This is great news, but, unfortunately, it’s taken too long and too many people have died as a result," said David Chipman, a former special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which regulates the firearm industry.

Monday’s announcement comes one year after Biden introduced his first steps to confront the gun crisis. Last April, following intensifying pressure from Democrats and gun-safety advocates, he nominated Chipman to lead the ATF and directed the Justice Department to issue proposals to reduce the proliferation of ghost guns.

Image: President Joe Biden hugs Mia Tretta, a Saugus High School shooting survivor, during an event on measures to combat gun crime in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11, 2022.
President Joe Biden hugs Mia Tretta, a survivor of a shooting at Saugus High School in Michigan in 2019, at an event Monday about measures to combat gun crime in the Rose Garden of the White House. Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

Gun safety advocates criticized the Biden administration for dropping the ball on Chipman’s nomination, which failed to advance in the Senate, following opposition from Republicans and Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats. The White House withdrew Chipman's nomination in September.

On Monday, Biden tapped Steve Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney in Ohio, as his second choice, starting the process over.

"We applaud the president for this step forward, but we’re clear-eyed that in many ways today’s announcement simply brings us to square one," March for Our Lives, a gun control advocacy group started by survivors of a 2018 school shooting in Florida, said in a statement.

In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Chipman, who is now a senior policy adviser for Giffords, another gun control advocacy group, said the White House can't just nominate someone and "then go on to the next thing."

"The White House has to lead this effort in the same way they would lead the nomination process for a Supreme Court justice," he said. “This isn’t a politically normal confirmation process.”

One year later, without any other new, significant policy proposals, Biden’s update Monday sounded like “regurgitations” from his news conference in April 2021, said Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, a gun-violence prevention group.

“The announcements he’s making today are significant, but they are, in some ways, iterations of what he said last year,” Volsky said, adding that he had hoped Biden would form a White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

"In some respects," Volsky said, "this is a bit of unfinished homework that this administration is now finishing."

Officials said ghost guns have been increasingly showing up at crime scenes across the country. And when they do, they’re harder to trace to an individual buyer because they’re not currently marked with serial numbers.

“We’re seeing these instruments of death used in crimes at an unacceptably skyrocketing pace,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said, adding that roughly half the guns recovered in homicide cases in San Francisco are ghost guns.

In 2021, the White House said about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were reported to the federal government as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations. That’s 10 times as many as in 2016, the administration said in a news release.

More Americans died from gunfire in 2020, the most recent year with available and complete data, than at any other time on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were more than 45,000 firearm deaths that year. 

Survivors of violence by ghost guns and those who lost loved ones to them said the new policy will help close a loophole that allowed the unchecked proliferation of the deadly and accessible weapons, sparing countless families from the trauma they’ve suffered.

“If you can put together an IKEA dresser, you can build a ghost gun,” said Mia Tretta, who was wounded with a ghost gun in the 2019 shooting at Saugus High School in California. “Unfortunately, it is that easy to get a weapon that has not only changed my life but has done the same thing to thousands of others.”

Bryan Muehlberger, whose daughter was murdered in the same school shooting, said the new rule “just may save another family from having to endure the pain and anguish that we have had to deal with” for almost three years.

In his address at the Rose Garden on Monday, Biden said he was keeping and building on a promise he made last year to tackle ghost guns. He called the new measures an “important step” that wouldn’t be the last. 

“It will make a difference, I promise you,” he said.