Over 18 people have died in less than a week, as the country’s slow emergence from lockdown has been greeted by another spate of mass shootings that have galvanized calls for comprehensive gun law reform. Now, President Joe Biden is offering strong support for tightening gun law restrictions, and the White House is signaling that an executive order isn’t out of the question if Republicans aren’t willing to compromise.
“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said following the shooting in Boulder, Colorado that left 10 dead. “This is not — it should not be — a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives, American lives. We have to act.”
Biden has listed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and strengthening background checks as key to his vision for gun law reform.
In 2019, Pew Research found that 60 percent of Americans favored tighter gun laws — a number that has steadily grown over the last decade as the blight of mass shootings has soared. Strong majorities of Americans in both parties favoring tighter background checks for people buying weapons at private gun sales and gun shows. Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is more divisive — about 90 percent of Democrats support such measures, compared to about half of Republicans. And regardless of what the voters say, elected Republican leaders have been staunchly against any reform, a complication Biden acknowledged when asked if the Congressional votes could be wrangled.
“I hope so. I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t done any counting yet.”
But White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki says that an executive order is not off the table. “We are considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive action,” Psaki told reporters on Air Force One. “That has been under discussion and will continue to be under discussion.” Experts differ on just how far an executive order on gun control could legally go.
It’s a subject that has bedeviled Biden’s predecessors. A former aide to President Barack Obama told CNN that “nothing frustrated President Obama more than his failure to achieve gun reform.” Biden could muscle the issue through, but even his own party isn’t as unified as he’d like on the issue. A bill expanding background checks passed the House earlier this month, but will meet opposition in the Senate from both Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
But that opposition faces an American populace that is running out of patience for the politics. Advocates noted that Boulder, Colorado’s two-year-old ban on AR-15 style weapons had been struck down by a local judge following an NRA-supported lawsuit. 10 days later, the shooter used one to to kill ten people.
As Biden has repeatedly pointed out, he helped lead the charge on an assault weapon ban in 1994 that lasted for 10 years until President George W. Bush let it expire. For several years, the actual data on the ban’s success at reducing gun violence was inconclusive, with even a Justice Department study finding the bill’s impact was mixed at best. However, research in the ensuing years has put the ban’s effective in a new light. The authors of the 2004 Justice Department study changed their tune in 2020, finding that mass killing went up after the ban expired. They say the measures of the bill in question was likely just starting to come into effect as it expired, and data supports it.
“State laws requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, which includes a background check on all purchases, are associated with 60 percent lower odds of a mass public shooting occurring,” Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox told the Washington Post. “Bans on large-capacity magazines are associated with 38 percent fewer fatalities and 77 percent fewer nonfatal injuries when a mass shooting occurred.” The data converted Fox, who had written on it skeptically in 2013. He, along with many other experts, specifically points to the effectiveness of banning large-capacity magazines when it comes to reducing mass shootings.
Taylor Schumann, a shooting survivor and Christian gun control reform advocate, said that “God’s vision for abundant life for his people does not include guns.”