Gun-control groups are not happy with the President.
Shortly after President Joe Biden’s (D.) remarks on the anniversary of the 2018 Parkland shooting on Monday, a coalition of groups slammed him for what they say is a lack of significant action on gun-control policy from the President. Leading the charge were members of the group March for Our Lives. Alongside other organizations in the gun-control space, they have begun to publicly pressure President Biden to do more to address gun violence.
But their strategy is unlikely to bear fruit.
President Biden is in short supply of political capital. A new Civiqs poll finds his net approval ratings are underwater in all but three states, creating a precarious environment for himself and other elected Democrats more broadly heading into November’s midterm elections.
Midterms for the party in power are usually a tough proposition anyway. But with the polling as bad as it is, Democrats from vulnerable swing states likely won’t be looking to push the envelope on hot button issues. That makes it all the more unlikely that a contentious fight over a gun bill is going to be coming anytime soon.
The President has still attempted to conjure some legislative support on the issue. On Monday, he called on Congress to bring several gun-control bills to his desk.
“And Congress must do much more — beginning with requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers,” he said.
Beyond gestures like that, there isn’t much more the President can do to influence Congress into taking up a gun-control bill at this point.
President Biden has already sidestepped Congress on several actions. These actions haven’t received as much attention lately since they are still making their way through the federal bureaucracy. But they are significant moves with serious legal implications for many Americans.
He spearheaded the proposal to expand the ATF’s power significantly in redefining what constitutes a firearm as part of his attempt to go after “ghost gun” kit makers. He is also trying to re-classify guns equipped with popular pistol braces as items that need to be destroyed, turned in, or registered with the ATF under the National Firearms Act. Those actions alone could impact millions of gun owners, potentially subjecting them to federal felony offenses if they are implemented without significant changes—something that could happen right before the midterm elections.
He also attempted to appoint David Chipman, a former agent and current employee of the gun-control group Giffords, to lead the ATF. Major gun-control groups, including Giffords and Everytown for Gun Safety, backed the pick. However, Chipman faced opposition from the entire Republican party and even a number of Democrats over his reverent support for restrictive new gun laws, as well as serious questions about his character.
When his nomination failed, Giffords unleashed public comments attacking the Biden Administration for not doing enough to get him confirmed. Chipman did a media tour where he primarily blamed the administration for not offering enough support during the nomination process.
The gun-control groups continue to be unsatisfied, though. They want the President to do more on his own, including creating an entirely new federal position.
“With the stroke of a pen, President Biden can create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention and appoint a cabinet-level director to lead these efforts,” the groups said.
It appears unlikely President Biden will go down this route, and the demand discounts the extent to which Biden has already aggressively pursued gun control via executive action.
The President could attempt to create a new federal bureaucracy dedicated to guns and face the political pushback that comes with it. But doing so will require more political capital, which is currently in short supply for the President, particularly on the issue of guns after the high-profile defeat of the Chipman nomination. And it’s not clear what benefits it would bring.
All of this is to say that the gun-control groups, and indeed President Biden, are largely out of viable options. At least for the moment.
National polling is moving in the wrong direction for those who support gun control. A 50-50 split of the parties in the Senate means new legislation on the issue is simply not going to happen. And the President has already largely exhausted his available political capital for pursuing unilateral executive moves on guns.
So, the gun groups can continue to turn up the political pressure on President Biden. But, barring an extraordinary and unexpected shift in public and political will, it won’t lead to new federal gun-control laws anytime soon, and it risks alienating a president who has long seemed personally committed to the issue.