Biden Is Coming for ‘Ghost Guns’ — and He Doesn’t Even Need Congress

The president has announced his first major push to rein in gun violence.
April 8, 2021, 5:58pm
President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris listens during an event on gun control in the Rose Garden at the White House April 8, 2021 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris listens during an event on gun control in the Rose Garden at the White House April 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is coming for “ghost guns.”

The White House unveiled a package of proposals on Thursday aimed at tamping down gun violence, including an attempt to stop the proliferation of makeshift firearms without serial numbers, known as “ghost guns.”

The announcement marks the first try by the Biden administration to take action on America’s epidemic of gun violence, in spite of Congressional partisan gridlock. Mass shootings in just the past few months have claimed lives in Atlanta; Boulder, Colorado; Frederick, Maryland; and Jersey City, New Jersey. And the shootings have shown no sign of slowing down. 

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Biden made his announcement in the Rose Garden in front of an audience of survivors of gun violence, gun control activists, and law enforcement officials. 

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. It is an international embarrassment,” said Biden. 

“Whether Congress acts or not, I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal to keep people safe from gun violence.” 

Biden said he will order the Justice Department to introduce new regulations on ghost guns, which the White House noted are being sold as kits that can be assembled at home in as little as 30 minutes. 

Ghost gun kits were initially a niche hobby enjoyed by firearm enthusiasts. But the fact they’re not currently classified as firearms by the ATF means buyers are able to evade federal regulation, and the final completed gun  doesn’t have a serial number. 

That lack of a serial number has made them increasingly popular among criminals, creating a huge headache for investigators. According to the ATF, 30% of all guns recovered at crime scenes in California last year didn’t have serial numbers.

New presidential guidance will also cover stabilizing braces, which can be applied to pistols to enhance their aim and effectiveness. The new rules will seek to establish when a brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, a weapon that appeared in the national spotlight when a mass shooter used it to kill 10 people at a supermarket in Colorado last month. 

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The Biden administration said it will also invest in community-based violence interventions, start issuing annual reports on firearms trafficking, and publish models of state legislation called “red flag” laws that give courts an avenue to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals who are deemed at risk of harming themselves or others. 

Finally, the Biden administration will also nominate a fierce advocate for gun safety, David Chipman, to serve as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Chipman spent over two decades at ATF before joining the gun control advocacy group started by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011. 

“During his tenure, he disrupted firearms trafficking operations in Virginia that were supplying illegal guns to New York City,” Chapman’s bio on Giffords’ website says

Biden’s announcement marks the most significant progress his administration has made on gun control since he took office, but his orders fell short of some of the lofty promises he made during his campaign, which included reinstating the ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons, and optional buyback schemes to incentivize people to turn in their guns. 

But Biden also made it clear he expected Congress to use its Democrat majority to pursue gun control advocates’ holy grail: reinstating the assault weapons ban. 

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“We should ban assault weapons with high capacity magazines in this country,” Biden said. He reminded listeners that he helped pass the original bill in 1994 when he was a U.S. senator. “It wasn’t easy going up against the gun lobby,” Biden said. “But we did it, and it saved lives.” 

The assault weapon ban expired in 2004. Since then, high-capacity weapons like the AR-15 have become a mainstay of American gun culture – and mass shootings. “Even law enforcement officials tell me they feel outgunned by assault weapons with high-capacity magazines,” said Biden. ”There’s no reason someone needs a weapon of war with 100 rounds — 100 bullets — that can be fired from that weapon. Nobody needs that.”

Guns and gun control are expected to be a major flashpoint for the Biden Administration, and the issue is already setting the stage for another tense debate over states rights. 

This week, preempting Biden action on firearms, Arizona’s governor signed legislation intending to block federal gun legislation. And over recent years, the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement—in which counties give their sheriffs the authority to ignore any state or federal gun control that they believe is unconstitutional—has rippled across the nation. 

“I know the conversation about guns in this country can be a difficult one,” said Biden. “But even here, there's much more common ground than anyone can believe. Everything that’s been proposed today is totally consistent with the Second Amendment.”