President Biden on Thursday will announce initial steps his administration plans to take on firearm safety, along with the nomination of a prominent gun safety advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The moves, which were previewed Wednesday evening by a senior administration official, come after recent high-profile mass shootings put added pressure on Biden to act on gun violence.
Biden will announce that the Justice Department will pursue two new regulations: one to curb the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, weapons that lack serial numbers and, in some cases, can be constructed at home; and a second that would regulate stabilizing braces, accessories that can be used to make pistols more like rifles.
Additionally, Biden plans to nominate David Chipman as ATF director. Chipman, who was a special agent at ATF for 25 years, is a senior policy adviser at Giffords, a gun safety group led by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who became an advocate after she was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, praised the selection of Chipman, who she said would have been her top choice for the job. "ATF is really the key agency that enforces our nation's gun laws. And it has to have a confirmed director in order to do so, and in order to do the very best job it can. But it hasn't had a confirmed director since 2015," Watts told NPR.
There were few details available Wednesday about the proposed regulations for ghost guns and stabilizing braces. The Justice Department is set to issue the proposals within 30 days, and they will be open to comment through the regular federal rule-making process before they are finalized and take effect.
Gun safety groups lauded the proposed move on ghost guns. "They are being sold across this country in kits — not subject to any background checks, not subject to serialization," Kris Brown, president of Brady United, said in an interview. "They are being used in crimes across this country. They are being purchased and used in crimes in record numbers."
"That's not minor — that's big," Brown said.
Advocates focusing on preventing gun violence in communities of color applauded the president's moves, too. The group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence pointed to parts of Biden's plans that could address specific factors contributing to gun violence in urban areas, saying in a tweet the actions "will address illegal gun trafficking, stop the flow of ghost guns, help individuals in crisis, and support and invest in black and brown communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence."
Community violence prevention advocates have criticized the public debate over guns as too reactive to mass shootings, arguing that the conversation overlooks everyday gun violence in American cities and often dissipates after major events.
Pastor Michael McBride, director of the LIVE FREE campaign, said in a statement, "Too often Black and Brown communities have been left out of the conversation around gun violence prevention — our daily tragedies glossed over by the public and met only with more police and the further criminalization of our communities." McBride added that he and allies on gun violence prevention can "breathe a sigh of relief seeing decades of organizing come together."
Many advocates were dismayed when the president seemed to indicate just a few weeks ago that he was going to focus on infrastructure and put gun policy aside, and Thursday's announcements are being welcomed enthusiastically by some. Community Justice Action Fund founder and executive director Amber Goodwin said in a statement, "The public health crisis of gun violence has destroyed communities of color for decades, and we are honored to work with a President that understands the urgency of immediate action."
Advocacy groups pushing the administration for action following mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado are expected to attend Thursday's announcement, as will community groups pressing for more attention on gun violence as a public health crisis.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy slammed the administration's actions.
"President Biden plans to announce his attempts to trample over our constitutional 2A rights by executive fiat," McCarthy, of California, tweeted. "He is soft on crime, but infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens. I won't stand for it. And neither will House Republicans. Follow the Constitution!"
In addition to the Justice Department regulations on ghost guns and stabilizing braces, Biden will announce a series of smaller measures. Five agencies will make changes to 26 programs to free up funding for community violence intervention programs, the official said. The Justice Department will publish model legislation for states looking at proposing their own "red flag" laws, which make it possible to temporarily remove guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. The DOJ also will work on a comprehensive report on gun trafficking — something it hasn't done since 2000 — to give lawmakers updated information.
Biden also tucked some $5 billion to support community-based violence prevention programs into his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan.
Biden has called on the Senate to pass Democratic-led legislation that the House passed that would require more stringent background checks for all gun sales and transfers and give the FBI more time to conduct them.
As a senator himself, Biden was active in efforts to ban so-called assault weapons, a prohibition that expired after 10 years, as well as the Brady law, which requires background checks for most but not all gun purchases.
As vice president, he led former President Barack Obama's effort to expand background checks after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, but the measure came to a halt in a Republican-led Senate filibuster.