WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday issued executive orders aimed at "ghost guns" and other gun modifications, citing the Boulder shooting as an example of what at least one of his orders would target.
Biden also called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and ordered the Justice Department to publish model "red flag" legislation for states that don't already have a red flag law. Colorado enacted a red flag law in 2020.
Biden, calling gun violence in America an "international embarrassment," took several actions:
- Orders the Justice Department, within 30 days, to issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns."
- Orders the Justice Department, within 60 days, to issue a proposed rule to make clear that when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, that gun will be subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act.
- Orders Justice Department, within 60 days, to publish model “red flag” legislation for states.
- Orders his administration to investing in evidence-based community violence interventions.
- Orders the Justice Department to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking.
Biden cited the Boulder shooting when announcing the order about the stabilizing brace making a pistol subject to the National Firearms Act, which requires certain weapons, such as sawed-off shotguns and machine guns, to be registered with the federal government and a $200 fee to be paid.
The Boulder shooting suspect allegedly used an AR-556 semi-automatic pistol, authorities said. The AR-556 can be made more accurate through the use of a stabilizing device.
“These braces are not anything new. The design is new, and you get more stability out of the brace, but it does not modify the actual functioning of the firearm,” said Ken Padgett, a former Denver Police SWAT officer. “It doesn’t add capacity, it doesn’t add velocity, it doesn’t add anything to the firearm at all except for the fact that it makes it a little more stable.”
Padgett spent more than 32 years in law enforcement, is a firearms trainer and used to run his own gun range and retail store.
He says the stabilizing brace can make it easier for a user to shoot a gun with only one hand and might add to the accuracy depending on the user.
The executive order requires the Justice Department to come up with new rules around this accessory within 60 days. The National Firearms act of 1934 lays out the definitions for what is considered a shotgun, rifle, handgun, etc.
“Within the boundaries of those definitions the ATF has the authority to write regulations that might clarify those things,” said David Kopel, an adjunct professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.
The executive order would treat a gun with a stabilizing device more like a rifle. Kopel says depending on how the rule change is worded, it could face legal challenges since a rifle, by definition, is something that has a stock to stabilize the gun against your shoulder while these devices stabilize the gun against your arm.
There’s also a potential question of accessibility for someone with a physical disability who uses the device to be able to fire their weapon.
“Does this violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, which says that it’s fine to have a general laws about stuff, but to the extent that it really cause a problem for people with disabilities you might have to have an exception,” Kopel said. “That is a possible issue that might arise.”
Biden's executive action on "ghost guns" — homemade guns without a serial number — ordered the Justice Department to require background checks on those guns.
Currently in the United States, building a gun from home is completely legal so long as the creator doesn’t plan to give the gun away or sell it. The ATF also has rules on the types of guns people are allowed to build, mostly limiting it to semi-automatic firearms.
If an owner does want to gift or sell a gun they make, they must obtain a manufacturers’ license.
The Biden administration says there has been a proliferation of cases where criminals are buying kits to make firearms that cannot be traced to commit crimes.
However, both Padgett and Kopel say these guns have historically rarely been used in crimes.
“They are a pretty tiny fraction of guns used in crimes. They’re mainly gun made by hobbyists for personal use,” Kopel said.
Padgett, meanwhile, said he can only remember two instances in his 32 years in law enforcement where he encountered a ghost gun being used in a crime, one of them was a gun made from a ball-point pen.
“Most of the time guns that are utilized in crimes are either purchased legally which can be done or they’re stolen,” he said. “It takes a little bit of precision to build a gun from just a receiver and it takes time and effort to do so. Criminals typically don’t do that.”
Biden said none of his orders Thursday infringed on the Second Amendment, calling arguments to the contrary "phony."
"The idea is just bizarre to suggest some things we're recommending is an affront to the Constitution," Biden said. "Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it's an international embarrassment."
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, said Biden's executive actions "will save lives."
“Last week, we sent a request to the White House asking for swift action to regulate concealable assault-style firearms, and we are grateful this request was included in the actions taken by the President today," Neguse said in a statement. "In addition to these steps, it’s critical that the House and the Senate take bold steps to approve comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation. We must do everything we can to stop the epidemic of gun violence and frequent mass shootings that have plagued our nation for far too long.”
Biden also formally nominated David Chipman to lead the ATF. Chipman is currently a senior policy adviser at Giffords, an organization led by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz. that advocates for stronger gun control laws.
Giffords was in attendance at the event on Thursday, along with Fred Guttenberg — a gun control advocate and the father of a girl killed in the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting.