March 16, 2023
On Tuesday, March 14, President Joe Biden visited Monterey Park, California—where residents still are in mourning following the mass murder of 11 people in January—and used the occasion to announce an executive order increasing the number of background checks for gun sales, although he acknowledged the action falls short of what action by Congress could achieve, reports The Washington Post.
In this largely Asian suburb of Los Angeles, where a day of jubilation to celebrate the Lunar New Year in January turned to anguish and terror as a shooter opened fire inside a dance studio, Biden attempted to draw renewed attention to the pain inflicted on communities that experience spasms of violence.
“Enough. Do something,” Biden told a crowd of about 200 at the West San Gabriel Valley Boys and Girls Club. “I’m here with you today to act.”
In addition to the background checks, Biden’s executive order directs his Cabinet to develop a proposal on how the federal government can better assist communities after a mass killing—aiming to mobilize resources for human-caused disasters in the way that Washington already does for natural disasters.
Biden also is urging the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report that would analyze how gun manufacturers market firearms to minors.
Together, the actions amount to the president’s latest attempt to use his executive authority to crack down on gun violence—efforts that necessarily are narrower in scope than measures urged by gun-control activists that would require congressional approval. While Biden’s aides acknowledge the constraints imposed by the U.S. Constitution and the current congressional reality, he is hoping to reignite a debate around mass killings and the country’s struggles to come up with a response.
Biden’s appearance also marked the latest turn in what increasingly looks like an all-but-certain reelection bid. The visit to Monterey Park came during a three-day West Coast swing that is featuring a signature foreign policy accomplishment, fundraisers at glitzy locations, and an appearance in Las Vegas on Wednesday to discuss prescription drug prices.
On Monday night, Biden spoke at a home estimated to be worth more than $8 million in Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego, raising some $1 million from about 40 attendees. On Tuesday night, he was scheduled to host another fundraiser in Las Vegas.
He has continued to call for an assault weapons ban, background checks on all gun sales and the repeal of gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability. But those kinds of bills are unlikely to pass Congress, particularly with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats holding a narrow Senate majority.
Tuesday’s executive order instructs Attorney General Merrick Garland to increase compliance among firearms sellers who are flouting the law, either intentionally or inadvertently, by not running background checks ahead of firearm purchases.
“The president is directing the attorney general to move the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation,” according to a White House summary. The move aims to further clarify a provision of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which Biden signed last year.
That law, enacted in June following a mass killing at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was the first gun-control measure that Congress had passed in 30 years. While it expanded background checks and provided mental health funding, it was crafted to be relatively modest to pass a divided Congress.
Biden also is instructing his Cabinet to raise public awareness of “red flag” laws, which allow Americans to petition a court to determine whether someone is dangerous and should have their access to firearms temporarily removed. The president also wants more attention on the safe storage of guns, so that children or other inappropriate individuals can’t access firearms.
“Every few days in the United States, we mourn a new mass shooting,” Biden wrote in the order. “Daily acts of gun violence—including community violence, domestic violence, suicide, and accidental shootings—may not always make the evening news, but they too cut lives short and leave survivors and their communities with long-lasting physical and mental wounds.”
“Thank you, President Biden,” said Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman and gun-violence survivor who founded an advocacy group to curb gun violence.
“Our diversity is the strength of this nation,” the president said. As he closed out his remarks before meeting privately with family members, he looked out at the audience and said, “God bless you all. I admire you so damn much.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost