Biden issues new order in effort to curb US gun violence

Executive order to expand firearm background checks signed amid ongoing challenge of passing stricter US gun laws.

The names of the eleven people killed are written on hearts as people gather for a candlelight vigil after a mass shooting during Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations in Monterey Park, California, U.S. January 24, 2023. REUTERS/David Swanson
US President Joe Biden has called for more stringent gun regulations to help prevent mass shootings, such as the one that occurred in Monterey Park, California, in January [File: David Swanson/Reuters]

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to expand the use of background checks for firearm purchases as the United States grapples with persistent and devastating mass shootings.

Biden underscored his commitment to further regulate guns in an announcement on Tuesday before a visit to the California community of Monterey Park, where a gunman stormed a dance hall and killed 11 people in January.

“We remember and mourn today, but I’m here with you today to act,” said Biden. “This executive order helps keeps firearms out of dangerous hands as I continue to call on Congress to require background checks for all firearms sales.”

The executive order aims to expand background checks and increase public awareness of so-called “red flag laws”, which are meant to keep guns out of the hands of people displaying troubling behaviour that is reported to law enforcement by family or friends.

It also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the methods gun manufacturers use to market firearms to minors and civilians, including the use of military imagery in their campaigns.

Biden’s order builds on previous legislation the president signed in June that included similar measures and a provision barring those convicted of domestic violence from purchasing firearms if they are still involved with the victim.

The announcement on Tuesday called last year’s law — which followed a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two staff members were killed — “the most significant gun violence reduction legislation enacted in nearly 30 years”.

However, some observers have pointed out that the legislation did little to substantially decrease firearms access in the US.

It also did not include restrictions on assault-style rifles that have been used in numerous mass shootings, which Biden has said he would like to see banned.

“Let’s be clear: None of this absolves Congress from the responsibility of acting to pass universal background checks, eliminate gun manufacturing immunity from liability,” Biden said in his speech on Tuesday. “And I am determined, once again, to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last year found 84 percent of respondents supported background checks for all firearms sales and 70 percent backed red flag laws.

Some gun rights advocates oppose background checks, saying they infringe on the constitutional right to possess arms while failing to stop criminals from getting them. They also contend many red flag laws trample on due process rights.

Republican legislators are largely hostile to attempts to enact more comprehensive gun control legislation, and the conservative majority in the US Supreme Court has struck down gun laws in Democrat-governed states such as New York.

The White House seemed to acknowledge those challenges on Tuesday, stating that the measures contained in Biden’s executive order would move the US “as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation”.

Addressing the community of Monterey Park in his closing remarks, Biden said he knew that there were some in the community whose “hearts are broken”.

“I promise you that the day will come when the memory of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” said Biden. “I promise you, it will come.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies