Biden Announces Gun Safety Agenda : The NPR Politics Podcast President Biden announced a series of policy actions on Thursday aimed at curbing gun violence. Congressional action remains unlikely unless Democrats reform or eliminate the filibuster.

This episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, political reporter Juana Summers, and White House reporter Tamara Keith.

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Biden Announces Gun Safety Agenda

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Biden Announces Gun Safety Agenda

Biden Announces Gun Safety Agenda

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AUDREY MARSALA: My name is Audrey Marsala (ph) from St. Petersburg, Fla. I just finished up my U.S. Congress midterm exam here at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., and now I finally get to take a break from Congress to - you guessed it - listen to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. This podcast was recorded at...


1:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 8.

MARSALA: ...Things may have changed by the time you hear it. All right. Here's the show.


DAVIS: I'd like to think I would crush a Congress midterm exam (laughter).

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There is no rest from Congress because guess what? We're going to talk about Congress on this podcast.

DAVIS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: I'm Juana Summers. I cover politics.

KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And President Biden today announced new administrative actions affecting guns.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.

DAVIS: Tam, can you walk us through the highlights of this?

KEITH: So the big centerpiece item is that the president is asking the Justice Department to begin a rule-making process to regulate what are known as ghost guns. These are gun kits that you can purchase on the Internet or in stores. Because it's not a fully assembled weapon when you buy the kit, it does not require a background check and it doesn't have serial numbers which are used to track weapons used in the commission of a crime.

And these so-called ghost guns have been growing in popularity and have been found to be part of a huge percentage of the crimes that are happening in some states. So that is the centerpiece thing, a rule-making process that would begin in 30 days - also going after these stabilizing attachments that can be put on a semiautomatic handgun to stabilize it and make it function like a rifle, but it isn't regulated like a semiautomatic rifle. And so there would be a rule-making process to try to bring those weapons into alignment with other semiautomatic rifles and weapons like that.

And one other thing, the Biden administration is planning to release draft language that states could use to pass red flag laws. These are laws that actually exist already in 19 states that if someone is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, a family member or someone close to them can petition to have their weapon temporarily taken from them to either protect them or the people around them.

DAVIS: Do you have a sense of how sort of meaty or impactful these measures will be in real life? I mean, when I hear rule-making process, it doesn't necessarily sound like a really big difference.

KEITH: Yeah, so a rule-making process - I feel like I've talked about this a million times before - these are, like, a long process. You know, there's a proposed rule and then there's comment and then there's a final rule, and then there are the inevitable lawsuits. If they were to actually succeed, this could have a fairly big impact. And certainly, the gun safety advocates have been pushing for the administration to go forward with rules like this.

I'll say there are a couple of other items on the list that Biden announced - having the Justice Department do a report on gun trafficking that takes into account, you know, like 3D printing of guns and all of these other more modern ways that guns are created and travel, and also moving about a billion dollars around, funneling it towards community violence prevention programs.

DAVIS: Juana, you talked to Susan Rice this morning. She's the head of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. Why did she say that they're choosing to do these actions now?

SUMMER: I asked her, you know, why after weeks of hearing President Biden say Congress must act - why they chose to proceed this way in addressing gun violence. And she made the point that this is not an issue that she and the president are willing to wait on because of the fact that, historically, we have seen attempts on Capitol Hill for years for Congress to come together and to do something to change the nation's gun laws. And so far, they haven't managed to pass any legislation.


SUSAN RICE: We very much believe and President Biden very much believes that it is Congress's responsibility to act. The House passed three pieces of legislation in recent weeks on a bipartisan basis. All of these bills now are sitting in the Senate waiting for action. And the president has been very clear and reiterated again today that it is the Senate's responsibility to act. And he will work with anybody who's willing to work with him to get those important pieces of legislation through.

But in the meantime, as Joe Biden has been very clear about, he is going to take what action he can as president of the United States through executive authority. We thought it was very important for the president to come out early within the first hundred days of his administration to make clear as he is going to champion all his career of gun violence prevention and safety to show that this remains a very significant priority for the administration.

SUMMER: Republicans have already been out suggesting that the actions that the president is announcing today are infringing on American's Second Amendment rights. And I'm wondering how you respond to that pushback.

RICE: It's disappointing but not surprising that there are still some who, despite the fact that 90% of the American people on a bipartisan basis believe that background checks, universal background checks are sensible, wise policy, and that many of the other steps we're talking about are common sense measures - that are still those who will cling to, you know, the NRA and its narrow agenda as long as they possibly can.

But I believe and I think President Biden believes that because the American people are fed up with daily violence in our schools, in our communities, on our streets, they're fed up with the fact that over a hundred Americans are dying every day, over 300 of them shot every day, that there is a real opportunity for rational policy and rational law to be passed on a bipartisan basis. And the president is committed to working to try to make that happen.

DAVIS: What has been the response that you've seen so far from Republicans to this? And do you think there's a possibility that there could be any Republican support for these actions, thinking also about the Biden administration actions on red flag laws?

KEITH: Republican leader Kevin McCarthy from the House tweeted that this is an effort to trample over constitutional Second Amendment rights by executive fiat. In terms of red flag laws, what the Biden administration is planning to do here is come out with model language that could be used by states to pass these sorts of laws at the state level.

And what these laws do is they say if someone is a danger to themselves or others, then a family member or someone close to them can petition to have their weapons temporarily taken from them. And in the 19 states where this already exists, these laws are shown to help prevent gun suicides. You know, we talk a lot about sources of gun deaths in America. People taking their own lives with guns is actually a huge source of deaths related to gun violence. And red flag laws have tended to have at least some more bipartisan support than some of these other proposals that aim more at the weapons.

DAVIS: Let's take a quick break. And when we get back, we'll talk more about Biden's administrative actions on guns.


DAVIS: And we're back. And, Tam, the president also announced his pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, aka ATF. Who is it?

KEITH: His name is David Chipman. He currently works for Giffords, which is one of the gun safety groups - the gun safety group that is founded by the former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was very gravely injured in an assassination attempt several years ago. And he previously spent 25 years as an ATF agent. He is someone who the gun safety community is thrilled with his nomination. And I will say that having an ATF director that is confirmed by the Senate is actually incredibly difficult and has only happened - you know, the last Senate confirmed ATF director left their position in 2015.


KEITH: But as Shannon Watts from the group Moms Demand Action told me, having an ATF director in that position is incredibly important for gun safety regulation.

DAVIS: Do you have a read on how easy or hard of a path that he's going to face in the Senate to getting confirmed?

KEITH: Yeah, I feel like I should turn that question to you, but I will say that when I asked Jen Psaki, the press secretary, about that today - and, you know, have you counted the votes? - because, you know, these are hard to confirm - she did not say confidently that she was sure that he would be confirmed. She said that they are sure that he is qualified and that he should get a fair hearing.

DAVIS: Juana, you had some great reporting a couple of weeks back about how there was a lot of frustration among the gun control activists community about how the Biden administration was tackling these issues. Do you have a sense of how they would view today's administrative actions and sort of what their take on it is?

SUMMER: Sure. So these groups have been critical of the president for not making gun legislation, more funding for these community violence programs initially a top priority because this is an issue that President Biden campaigned on. And now they've been very - many of them were at that White House event today. They have been having conversations with members of the administration, including Susan Rice.

And broadly speaking, the response has been that this is good, but this can only be a first step. They feel like the things that the president announced today are going to be kind of just a start of a process. But they believe, A, that Congress does need to pass the legislation that has passed the House and has not yet passed the Senate; but, B, a number of these folks tell me that they believe there is much more that Biden can do on his own without Congress to meaningfully impact gun violence in this country.

One big thing, though, that a lot of these folks have been celebrating is that that funding that I had been reporting on several weeks ago, the more than $5 billion that President Biden has said that he intends to devote to community violence prevention programs, that is something that these activists pushed the administration on because Biden had originally only said as a candidate that he would devote $900 million over eight years to that, so that's a big jump in funding. And they say that they have never had that level of funding committed to those types of interventions that really seek to stop gun deaths in this country before they start.

DAVIS: Tam, this is something I think we've said in basically every pod we've done about action on guns, but, you know, these administrative actions, executive actions, they can all be undone by the next president, right? The only way to really change gun laws is through legislative action. And I don't have the sense that anything's different on Capitol Hill.

Biden today in his speech, you know, gave a long list of the legislation he'd like to see Congress pass, including renewing an assault weapons ban. That's almost certainly not going to happen in Congress, so just feels like we're kind of stuck a bit in the status quo of where we are in this gun debate, doesn't it?

KEITH: Yeah, and this White House is acutely aware that no executive or administrative action is durable in the same way that a piece of legislation would be. But at the same time, the gun safety advocates will say, you know, the NRA is in bankruptcy proceedings and their groups are bigger than ever and have more members than ever. And they have a president in the White House who ran on gun control.

DAVIS: All right. We'll leave it there for today. We'll be back tomorrow with our weekly roundup. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

SUMMER: I'm Juana Summers. I cover politics.

KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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