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Biden issues order to strengthen gun background checks

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VIDEO COURTESY AP
ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                President Joe Biden shakes hands with Brandon Tsay as he arrives at Los Angeles International Airport, today, in Los Angeles.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Brandon Tsay as he arrives at Los Angeles International Airport, today, in Los Angeles.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                President Joe Biden shakes hands with Brandon Tsay as he arrives at Los Angeles International Airport, today, in Los Angeles.

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. >> President Joe Biden signed an executive order today aiming at increasing background checks to buy guns, promoting more secure firearms storage and ensuring U.S. law enforcement agencies get more out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer.

The Democratic president was to address his latest efforts to curb gun violence in a speech in this suburban Los Angeles community, where a gunman stormed a dance hall and shot 20 people, killing 11, following a Lunar New Year celebration in January. He was also meeting with families of victims and with first responders from that day.

Biden’s rhetoric has grown ever stronger about guns — he routinely calls for banning assault weapons — in pushing a vocal gun-control platform even tougher than during the Obama administration when he was vice president. He has been emboldened by the midterm electiions when his regular talk of gun control didn’t result in massive losses, and he’s expected to continue to argue for strong changes as he inches toward a 2024 reelection run, his aides say.

Biden was greeted at the Los Angeles airport today by Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old who wrestled the semiautomatic pistol away from the gunman in Monterey Park. The two shook hands; Biden had invited Tsay to his State of the Union address in January where he praised the young man’s heroism.

But the president has only limited power on guns to go beyond bipartisan legislation passed by Congress last summer after the killings last year of 10 shoppers at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store and 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

Today’s action does not change U.S. government policy. Rather, it directs federal agencies to ensure compliance with existing laws and procedures — a typical feature of executive orders issued by presidents when they confront the limits of their own power to act without cooperation from Congress.

Biden, in the order, acknowledged Congress’ opposition, but said, “In the meantime, my administration will continue to do all that we can, within existing authority, to make our communities safer.”

The order directs the Cabinet to work on a plan to better structure the government to support communities suffering from gun violence. The plan calls on Attorney General Merrick Garland to shore up the rules for federally licensed gun dealers so they know they are required to do background checks as part of the license.

Biden is also mandating better reporting of ballistics data from federal law enforcement for a clearinghouse that allows federal, state and local law enforcement to match shell casings to guns. But local and state law enforcement agencies are not required to report ballistics data, and many do not, making the clearinghouse less effective.

And the president is asking the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report analyzing how gun manufacturers market to minors and use military images to market to the general public.

“President Biden’s executive order today is a home run for public safety,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “This is the latest example of President Biden’s leadership on gun safety, and we’re proud to stand with him as he takes robust action to help close the gun-seller loophole — which will significantly expand background checks on gun sales, keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people and save lives.”

The bill passed last year, known as the Safer Communities Act, is viewed by gun control advocates as a good start but one that doesn’t go far enough. After the law was signed, there were 11 other mass shootings, according to a database of mass killings since 2006 maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. Those killings don’t include shootings in which fewer than four people were killed — and gun violence is also rising nationwide.

Pro-gun groups said the order would do little to stop growing gun violence.

“The reality is that nothing in the president’s executive order today would have done anything to prevent the recent mass shootings in California, Michigan or elsewhere,” said Katie Pointer Baney who is the Managing Director of Government Affairs for the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. “It’s time for the president and political leaders across the country to have an honest conversation with the American people and acknowledge there is no legislative fix that will permanently solve the issue of gun violence.”

Biden will also direct his Cabinet to make sure law enforcement agencies understand the benefits of the new law, particularly around red-flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior and prevent them from hurting themselves or others.

Last month, the Justice Department sent out more than $200 million to help states and the District of Columbia administer red-flag laws and other crisis-intervention programs.

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