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President Biden Poised To Take Executive Action On Gun Violence Prevention

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden is poised to take executive action on gun violence prevention. This follows two mass shootings last month that drew the nation's attention back to the issue. Biden is facing increased pressure from gun safety advocates who have expressed disappointment in his lack of action so far. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who has been following this story.

Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: OK, so just walk us through what Biden is announcing tomorrow.

KEITH: Yeah. The White House briefed reporters tonight on the plans, and a lot of it is incremental, which they acknowledge. They say this is just first steps. A couple of examples - the Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to stop the proliferation of so-called ghost guns. These are weapon kits that people can buy to build their own guns. But they don't require background checks and don't have a serial number, so they aren't traceable if they're used in a crime. But a proper rulemaking process isn't something that happens overnight. There's a proposed rule, a comment period, a final rule, more waiting. And then when it's all done, it could face, probably will face legal challenges.

Similarly, the Justice Department will also embark on a rulemaking process to regulate stabilizing braces used to convert an AR-style pistol into what is functionally a rifle. In all, there are six items, including things like model legislation for states to take up and moving money around for community violence prevention efforts.

CHANG: But as is the case with almost all executive actions, these are all actions that would be stronger if they came in the form of legislation passed by Congress rather than by executive action, right?

KEITH: Yes, exactly, so here's an example. The Justice Department, as I mentioned, will put out model legislative language. This would be for states to pass their own red flag laws. That is a law that would allow weapons to be removed temporarily from someone who is a danger to themselves or others, but it would have to be state by state. If Congress were to pass a red flag bill or maybe a ban on those ghost guns, it would be a lot more durable and consistent nationwide than this approach. But you know this as well as anybody. Significant gun legislation hasn't passed in this country since the 1990s, when...

CHANG: Yeah.

KEITH: ...President Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And the last major effort was after Newtown. Biden was integrally involved in that effort, and it fizzled.

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: He is calling on Congress to pass legislation on guns. But at the same time, he is calling on Congress to act first on this big infrastructure bill that he pushed out last week, this big proposal. And it seems like that is really his priority right now.

CHANG: Well, one thing that gun violence prevention advocates had been calling for was for President Biden to nominate a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He is going to be naming that person tomorrow, at least we're expecting him to. Who are we expecting him to name?

KEITH: Yes, they've told us who he's going to name. The ATF director pick would be someone named David Chipman. He's a senior adviser now to the gun safety group Giffords, but he previously spent 25 years as a special agent at ATF. And I will note that the ATF director job is one that has been so highly politicized that it has been nearly impossible to get the Senate to confirm anyone for the job. In fact, the last and only Senate-confirmed ATF director left the job in 2015.

Now, the changes to Senate rules mean it may well be possible for him to be confirmed with Democratic votes alone if there are enough Democratic votes for that. But gun safety advocates have said it is just really important to put someone in that job in a Senate-confirmed position because a lot of the regulatory action on gun restrictions goes through the ATF.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tamara Keith.

Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.