Written By: Christopher B. Dolan and Katelyn P. Dembowski
Tess from San Francisco asks: President Biden just announced new executive actions on gun control. What do these actions mean? Isn’t Congress supposed to make these laws? How will this impact gun laws in California?
Dear Tess: These are really pressing questions. As the number of distributed COVID-19 vaccines has surpassed 183 million, we have seen many parts of the country, and California, return to normalcy. Yet with guidelines softening and the pandemic coming to a close, we have found ourselves facing another epidemic: a resurgence of mass shootings and gun violence.
President Biden’s Executive Actions
On April 8, 2021, President Biden announced a series of executive actions he would be taking to curb gun violence after two mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado left 18 people dead. The executive actions are only small steps towards a bigger goal for the Biden Administration. Aggressive and comprehensive federal regulations, like an assault weapons ban, strengthening background checks, and removing liability immunity from gun manufacturers are still in the hands of Congress. For now, President Biden has laid out the following actions, among others, that his administration will be taking:
- The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns.”
Ghost guns are firearms that are assembled from kits, usually without any serial numbers, that cannot be traced. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, such firearms are easy to assemble and comparatively inexpensive: an AR-15 build kit costs as little as $345. The use of ghost guns has increased exponentially in places with strict gun laws like California. The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule within the next month that subjects buyers to background checks and requires the components to have serial numbers that allow them to be traced.
- The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to make clear when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace will be subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act.
On March 22, 2021, an armed assailant walked into a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colorado and killed ten people. The shooter was using an AR-556 semi-automatic pistol with a stabilizing brace, making the gun more stable, accurate, and more like a rifle. President Biden’s order will make these stabilizing braces subject to the National Firearms Act, requiring registration with the federal government and a $200 fee.
- The Justice Department will publish model “red flag” legislation for states.
“Red flag” laws permit police officers and family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who they believe may present a danger to others or themselves. A 2016 study by Law and Contemporary Problems analyzed data from 762 guns removed under Connecticut’s “red flag” law, finding that for every ten to eleven guns seized, there was one averted suicide. “Red flag” laws used in other states could potentially mitigate some gun violence.
For a comprehensive list of President Biden’s actions, please see the White House Fact Sheet.
While President Biden’s executive actions will offer federal rules and guidelines for the states to follow, Congress will have to pass any meaningful gun control legislation. In 1994, Congress enacted the U.S. Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. The law put a ten year ban on the manufacture of semi-automatic firearms for civilian use as well as “large capacity” ammunition magazines. The ban expired in 2004 under President Bush.
A new bill introduced last week would have a similar effect. The Assault Weapons Ban of 2021, introduced by Representative Cicilline, RI and Senator Feinstein, CA will prohibit the sale, manufacture, transfer, and importation of 205 “military-style assault weapons” and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. This bill does not affect guns already in possession of gun owners and it exempts more than 2,200 types of firearms for hunting, household defense and recreational purposes. Democrats in Congress are adamant about passing gun control legislation while acknowledging rights under the 2nd Amendment. “We have to respect people who are gun owners.” stated Rep. Cicilline, “We have a right, too, to ensure that people can live a life free from gun violence.”
Should this bill pass both the House and the Senate, President Biden would sign it and it would become a national law.
Impact on California
California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. California already requires universal background checks for all gun sales, limits ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, requires a 10-day waiting period before a buyer can take possession of a firearm and banned military-style weapons decades ago. California further requires gun owners to store guns unloaded and in places not accessible by children or adults prohibited from possessing a gun.
President Biden’s executive actions will change very little about gun regulation in California. Many of the actions he announced are already law in the state, including a “red flag” law, ammunition limits, waiting periods, rifle regulations, and handgun safety training. However, ghost guns have been linked to many shootings in California because of the more stringent gun laws. There is hope that the proposed federal rule will help decrease the circulation and use of ghost guns in California.