President Joe Biden called on Congress to implement stricter gun control laws after the terrible mass shooting last Monday, where 10 people were killed in a grocery store by a suspect who is now under police custody. Additionally to Biden’s statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, confirmed that the administration is considering taking “executive action” to implement gun control policy.
In his address to the press, the President detailed that he was calling for legislative action to implement gun control policies like: background checks, banning assault weapons, and erasing the so-called “Charleston loophole”.
The influential National Rifle Association has already responded to the President’s call by publishing a tweet quoting the Second Amendment with an attached photo of the U.S. Constitution.
With the House being controlled by Democrats, is expected that all efforts to pass gun control legislation will be aimed at the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to block any significant measure through the filibuster unless Democrats manage to get 10 GOP senators to overturn it, or if they manage to convince Manchin and Synema to get rid of the filibuster altogether.
Two key proposals
The House has already passed two bills addressing gun control on March 11, with the Senate now having the task to evaluate it and vote. The first proposal (H.R 8) aims at expanding the requirement of background checks in firearm sales between individuals, requiring that the sale can only proceed after a “licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check”. The bill, called the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021”, passed the House of Representative on March 11 with a 227-203 margin, with 8 Republicans voting in favor.
The other bill that passed the House is the “Enhanced Background Checks Act” (H.R 1446) introduced by the House Majority Whip, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) expands the minimum time a gun provider has to wait for a complete background check to be realized before being allowed to sell a gun to another individual, moving the timeframe from 3 days to 10 days, with the possibility of the transaction continuing if there’s no final background check determination in a 20 day timeframe.
The latter bill would close the “Charleston loophole” that gun control advocates argue that allows for a transaction to proceed in the case where the federally-mandated background check does not give a result within three days of the process beginning and that they argue made the Charleston massacre possible. This bill passed by a 219-210 vote, with two Democrats voting against it and two Republicans voting for it.
Since Democrats control the House, they could continue to pass gun control related bills with ease, the issue is if they would be able to get those proposals through the evenly divided Senate. Since both bills were blocked in the then Republican dominated Senate, it is hard right now to see a substantial amount of Republican Senators changing their minds and supporting the bill today.
Republicans have had a lukewarm reaction to the bills passed by the House with Senator Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that while he is “open to the discussion” while being against of “something that doesn’t work” and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) saying that “it is time to do something”, however, he opposes large reforms arguing that “if you want to stop these murders, go after the murderers”.
Although there would certainly be an increasing public pressure to certain senators to support any type of gun control measure, it is very likely the Senate would not reach the 60 vote threshold to approve any of the measures approved by the House. The question, however, of reaching an alternative policy solution where at least 10 Republican Senators agree remains open.
If Congress is not able to pass any significant measure aimed at gun control, then the Biden White House would be both tempted and pressured to utilize executive power and implement some type restrictions to the selling of firearms without the need of congressional approval, an option Jen Psaki has said is being evaluated.
An executive action (which could either be an order or a regulation) to regulate gun policy would certainly be controversial and might be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. However, there are recent precedents of executive decisions being upheld by the courts, like former President Trump’s prohibition to sell bum stocks on 2019, which the Supreme Court refused to strike down.
A highly partisan issue
Gun control remains a highly polarizing issue, with a 2019 Pew Research survey indicates that, although there is a sharp partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of drafting stricter gun laws, with 86% of Democrats thinking they should be stricter, while only 31% of Republicans thinking the same.
Nevertheless, it appears there are some policies that collect some broad bipartisan support. With 82% of Republicans and lean Republicans and 93% of Democrats and lean Democrats supporting an expansion on background checks to private gun sales at gun shows, while preventing access to guns to mentally ill people also having broad support among Democrats and republicans alike.
However, this does not mean that every policy that Democrats are passing through the Senate will find the same level of public support. The same survey indicates that banning assault weapons would be opposed by almost 50% of Republicans, while prohibiting high capacity magazine being opposed by a slightly higher 54%.
Biden intends to capitalize in the growing public outcry over gun violence, the general agreement that something needs to be done, and the poll numbers supporting some control measures, time will tell if he would be able to do so.