Biden Talks 'Assault Weapon' Ban, Won't Rule out Executive Action
President Joe Biden on Tuesday delivered a speech at the White House about gun control, urging Congress to act on a catalog of progressive anti-gun legislation to include bans.
"I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take commonsense steps that will save the lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act," said Biden in a six-minute monologue. "We can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again. I got that done when I was a senator," he said, referring to the 1994 federal ban that sunset in 2004.
"It passed. We should do it again," he said.
The author of the expired 1994 ban, 87-year-old U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is still in Congress and earlier this month introduced a rebooted measure which is pending in committee. Filed as S.736, the sweeping 125-page bill is much more restrictive than the original and has 35 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
While a bill to regulate popular semi-auto firearms and their magazines would need to navigate a narrowly divided but Democrat-controlled Congress, a prospect that may require the suspension of Senate filibuster rules, there are other "levers" available for Biden to use.
During the Trump administration, 10 months after the White House announced knee-jerk plans to ban bump stocks without Congress, the ATF declared that it intended to reclassify them as illegal machine guns. Despite widespread pushback from pro-gun groups and Republican lawmakers as well as a spate of federal lawsuits, the ban, targeting upwards of 500,000 devices, went into place in March 2019. After that date, those possessing a bump stock could face federal weapons charges that carry up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each violation.
Since then, legal challenges to the administrative move have been swatted away by the courts, with jurists even refusing claims for reimbursement for destroyed stocks. While several cases are still at play in the courts and could eventually find the regulatory change on shaky legal ground, bump stocks are still illegal today.
While a move or directive to reclassify currently legal firearms as something illegal could be a stretch and would surely see a tsunami of litigation, Biden could partially close the black rifle market to imports from overseas. Past presidents from Bush to Clinton have cut off imports from China and the Obama State Department targeted Russian arms makers. A few memos could see a much more restrictive "sporting purposes" test in place that could make several firearms commonly seen at the local gun store today unimportable.
When asked about executive actions from Biden's office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said it was on the table.
"We are certainly considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive actions to address, obviously, you know, not just gun safety measures but violence in communities. So that is — has been under discussion and will continue to be under discussion," said Psaki.
When pressed on the issue by the media, Psaki circled back to the same language.
"He is personally committed to continuing to push for gun safety measures — something that he has been committed to since he was in the Senate — and was a big advocate for the Brady Bill, for the assault weapons ban, for executive actions and legislation that, as you — as you, kind of, alluded to, we tried to move through the Obama-Biden administration," she said.