WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is set to unveil his first major steps to address gun violence on Thursday, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns, or untraceable weapons that can be constructed from parts purchased online, according to senior administration officials.
The president also is expected to announce his nomination of David Chipman as the director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the actions ahead of the president’s announcement. Chipman is an ATF veteran who currently serves as an adviser for the gun control advocacy group named for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who survived a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, as a congresswoman.
Biden has come under immense pressure from gun safety advocacy groups and Democrats to fulfill his campaign pledge to tackle gun control on his first day in office after mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia thrust gun control back into the national conversation in recent weeks.
The first action will direct the Department of Justice to propose a rule within 30 days to stop the proliferation of ghost guns, which lack serial numbers are and can be purchased without background checks. Officials declined to say whether the rule meant the Justice Department would classify ghost guns as firearms.
Attorney General Merrick Garland will join the president in the Rose Garden on Thursday morning in announcing the raft of actions, which includes tightening regulations on the kind of stabilizing braces for pistols used in last month’s Boulder, Colorado, shooting that left 10 people dead.
Biden will direct the Justice Department to issue a proposed rule within 60 days that makes clear a device marketed as a stabilizing brace, which effectively allows a pistol to operate as a short-barreled rifle, is subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act, according to the official.
Other actions include directing five federal agencies to making changes to the 26 different programs to direct vital support to community violence intervention programs as quickly as possible. The president has already proposed a $5 billion investment in community violence intervention programs over eight years under his infrastructure package.
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As a candidate, Biden pledged to reinstate an assault weapons ban, create a voluntary gun buyback program and send a bill to Congress to repeal liability protections for gun manufacturers and close background check loopholes on his first day in office.
The president instead focused much of his attention in his first days in office on passing his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and, more recently, his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, frustrating some anti-gun violence groups who expected the administration to move faster.
A recent poll ABC News/Ipsos poll found that a majority of Americans (57%) disapproved of the way Biden has handled gun violence as president among both Democrats and Republicans.
The president told reporters at his first press conference that addressing gun violence was a “matter of timing,” even though he said he didn’t “need to wait another minute” to address gun violence just days before, following the Boulder shooting.
The White House has repeatedly urged Congress to pass gun safety legislation, pointing to two bills passed in the House last month. One bill would expand background checks on individuals seeking to purchase or transfer firearms, while the other would close the so-called Charleston loophole, which allows gun sales to proceed without a completed background check if three business days have passed. The bills face an uphill battle in an evenly divided Senate.
Administration officials emphasized that the executive actions were “initial steps” the administration would take to address gun violence and that officials would to work on additional actions in the weeks ahead.
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The president will also direct the Justice Department to publish model “red flag” legislation for states that want to enact such laws that enable family members or members of law enforcement to petition for court order to temporarily bar people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. Biden will also sign an order directing the Justice Department to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking, which the ATF has not done since 2000.
The ATF has been chronically devoid of permanent leadership due to the divisive nature of gun rights.
B. Todd Jones, a former U.S. attorney in Minnesota, announced his resignation less than two years after a contentious Senate confirmation vote. In 2013, Jones became the first permanent director for the agency in seven years.
Asked if he believed Biden would get a Senate-confirmed director, Jones told USA TODAY recently “the window of opportunity is now.”
He said the right combination is someone with expert Justice Department contacts like a former U.S. attorney who knows the back-end of criminal and civil prosecution and someone who’s in the bureau.
Chipman served as a special agent at the ATF for 25 years before he joined Giffords’ gun control group. While at the ATF, Chipman helped disrupt trafficking operations in Virginia that were supplying illegal guns to New York City, served as a member of ATF’s version of SWAT, and was named the Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Firearms Programs.
Chipman also has served on the Firearms Committee of the nation’s largest group of police chiefs, the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
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John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said the actions “will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history.”
Feinblatt said Biden’s decision to treat ghost guns “like the deadly weapons they are will undoubtedly save countless lives – as will the critical funding provided to groups that focus on city gun violence.”
The National Rifle Association, the largest gun rights lobby group in the U.S., called the measures “extreme” and said it was “ready to fight.”
Giffords, who is married to Sen. Mark Kelly, said the actions delivered on Biden’s promise to take action in his first 100 days in office.
“Days like today are why we fought so hard to bring a gun safety champion to the White House. These executive actions help address a crisis that devastates communities across the country on a daily basis. Today we have hope that a brighter future is in store,” she said.
Giffords also praised the White House for Chipman’s nomination.
“As a responsible gun owner, decorated law enforcement professional, and gun safety expert, David is the perfect choice for ATF director,” she added.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Nicholas Penzenstadler