In what many conservatives and pro-gun groups paint as a chilling overreach by the White House, President Biden on Tuesday announced a new Executive Order aimed at guns.
 
The rambling EO signed by Biden on March 14, on "on Reducing Gun Violence and Making Our Communities Safer," is multi-faceted.
 
Among its "whole-of-government approach" tenets are marching orders to the Justice Department to publicly release more inspection reports of licensed gun dealers, expand existing campaigns to promote the safe storage of firearms, step up the entry of ballistics data collected from crime scenes, and increase efforts to encourage the use of "red flag" gun seizure laws.  
 
Other measures include calling on the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report analyzing how "gun manufacturers market firearms to minors and how such manufacturers market firearms to civilians, including through the use of military imagery." This is even though only those over the age of 18 can legally purchase a firearm at retail.
 
Further, the Pentagon is directed to use "principles to further firearm and public safety practices" in their acquisition of firearms, a possible reference to mandating the use of unproven so-called "smart gun" technology.
 
However, one part of the executive action has struck a strong chord with those on both sides of the national conversation on guns: more aggressively defining who is considered "engaged in the business of dealing in firearms" by the ATF and Justice Department. Past guidance from federal gun regulators on the topic of selling guns without a federal firearms license has proven fuzzy, with the agency noting that "courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold, or when only one or two transactions took place."
 
Biden, in prepared remarks delivered Tuesday at an anti-gun event in California, was frank that the order was a move toward controversial universal background checks without the required legal framework of going through Congress to make it a law.
 
"First, this executive order helps keep firearms out of dangerous hands, as I continue to call on Congress to require background checks for all firearm sales," said Biden. "And in the meantime — in the meantime, my executive order directs my Attorney General to take every lawful action possible — possible to move us as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation."
 
Speaking of prepared remarks, while the White House, Justice Department, and ATF were quiet as to what exactly are the new qualifiers for crossing the "engaged in the business of dealing in firearms" threshold, Everytown, a national gun control organization founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, fired off a press release hours before the Oval Office made public the executive action with a window on what could be coming from the administration.

In the statement, the group offered its vision for a proposed new rule by ATF: "Enforcement guidance and substantive rulemaking should make clear that anyone who offers a gun for sale at a gun show or pursuant to an advertisement — including online ads — is presumptively engaged in the business of selling guns and needs to run background checks."
 

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Why Universal Background Check laws are problematic


Offered up for more than a decade as a sort of magic bullet by gun control advocates and progressive lawmakers, universal background checks would eliminate person-to-person firearms transfers without the two parties using an FFL or law enforcement agency to first conduct background checks. Past efforts, painted with a broad brush as being just the ticket for all but ending gun crime, have seen a modicum of bipartisan support but have been a tough sell to the public and, despite the best efforts of those in favor of such laws, have always come up short in the U.S. Senate.
 
A big part of this is because 2A groups have thrown rocks at the concept, arguing that UBCs are one step away from a gun registry – after all, if all legal gun sales are subject to background checks then all legal guns can ultimately be tracked, in a way. A paper trail can point towards future confiscation either in whole (for example, all rifles) or in part (all Colt M4 carbines).
 
It doesn't help Biden's case that UBCs won't eventually lead to seizures and disarmament when his 2024 proposed budget calls for nearly $2 billion to fund the ATF, a big jump from the $1.5 billion seen in 2022.
 
"While we ultimately can only achieve universal background checks through legislative action from Congress, President Biden's announcement today gets us closer to that reality than any other President that has come before," said the Brady Campaign after the new executive action was announced. Brady was originally formed in 1974 as the National Council to Control Handguns and spearheaded the drive to adopt the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System that went online in 1998 due to a measure that is widely referred to as the "Brady Law."
 
However, at least one study found that there is no evidence the implementation of the Brady Act was associated with a corresponding reduction in homicide rates or even in overall suicide rates.
 

About restrictions, not safety


Gun industry groups and Second Amendment advocates argued that Biden's move toward universal background checks without a mandate from Congress is misguided.
 
"Joe Biden is trying to sell this new gun control scheme the way he’s always done, by promising less violent crime and safer neighborhoods,” Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Chairman Alan Gottlieb told Guns.com, "but this plan isn’t going to accomplish either goal, and he knows it. This sleight-of-hand maneuver simply makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms while creating the impression gun dealers are crooks and the industry is unregulated."
 
Meanwhile, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for America's firearms industry, said that it "rejects the Biden administration’s demand to move closer to universal background checks, which will not work without a national firearm registry, which is forbidden by federal law."
 
Speaking more to the potentially shaky legal foundation for the Biden attempt at UBCs via Presidential order, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen cautioned the White House in a public statement.
 
"The President can’t rewrite laws," said Knudsen, who is already in a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s pistol brace rule. "This is yet another executive order from the most anti-gun administration in history designed to circumvent the legislative process. I am reviewing the executive order and will closely monitor the federal government’s implementation of it. If it violates Americans’ rights, I will file a lawsuit."

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