President Joe Biden (D.) dedicated a portion of his first State of the Union Address Tuesday night to calling for gun control. While his inclusion of the subject wasn’t noteworthy, the way he talked about it was.
The tone, content, and pacing of the President Biden’s remarks on guns were indicative of a pro forma exercise, rather than a serious call to action. The entire portion of the address dealing with gun control lasted less than 60 seconds total, before the President quickly transitioned off the subject and on to the topic of voting rights.
The time he did dedicate to the subject was focused almost entirely on spurring Congressional action, no matter how unlikely, on the same proposals he has already called for. Biden’s major gun control bugaboos have not changed. That much is obvious.
“Ghost guns,” universal background checks, “assault weapon” bans, and broadening civil liability for gun makers all featured heavily in his campaign for the Presidency. And all made an appearance in his address Tuesday night.
“And I will keep doing everything in my power to crack down on gun trafficking and ghost guns you can buy online and make at home—they have no serial numbers and can’t be traced,” President Biden said. “I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence. Pass universal background checks.”
He repeated several of his favorite lines in reference to his preferred policies, even going off script to lampoon gun owners who might be opposed to his weapon and accessory bans.
“And folks, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold up to 100 rounds,” he said. “You think the deer are wearing kevlar vests?”
The President also requested a repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act while repeating the false claim that gun manufacturers are immune from all lawsuits.
“Repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued,” Mr. Biden said. “Imagine had we done that with the tobacco manufacturers?”
Though the President trotted out many of his favorite retreads on gun control, he notably did not reiterate his belief that civilians with small arms are no match for a tyrannical government. Those comments would have likely been incompatible with the first portion of his address where he commended the bravery of the Ukrainian people fighting back against Russian incursion.
He also chose not to highlight any of the sweeping executive actions he took on gun control in 2021.
He nominated and publicly lobbied for a professional gun control activist to lead the ATF, a significant move even though it ended in failure. He also spearheaded several regulatory moves at the ATF that will dramatically expand the agency’s power and enforcement prospects on previously law-abiding gun owners.
As a result, the ATF is currently proposing to redefine what constitutes a firearm as part of his attempt to go after “ghost gun” kit makers. It is also in the midst of an attempt 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. Those rules are currently being reviewed and are expected to be finalized by the end of this summer.
And perhaps most notably of all, President Biden said nothing about taking any future executive actions on guns despite prominent gun control groups growing increasingly vocal in their desire to see him do. His silence in this regard did not go unnoticed by those same groups.
Guns Down America, a smaller advocacy group but one of the most critical of Biden, was quick to criticize the President’s remarks on guns after the State of the Union.
“Despite every indication that the American people want to see the Biden administration do more to address our nation’s gun violence crisis, and with nearly 50,000 Americans dead from gun violence under his watch, the President missed a critical opportunity to leverage the full resources of the federal government to announce a coordinated, unified, national response to the public health crisis of gun violence,” Igor Volsky, Executive Director of the group, said in a statement. “While nobody doubts the President’s and his staff’s commitment to saving lives, it’s far less clear that this administration is willing to spend actual political capital on this issue.”
The President’s decision not to promise more executive action also caught the attention of one of the most pro-gun-control elected officials in the U.S. Senate, Chris Murphy (D.). He told a group of gun-control advocates on Wednesday that Biden needs to show “more urgency” on gun-control executive action, according to the Associated Press.
“Because we are at a logjam in the United States Senate, it means that the burden on the administration to step up and take action is great,” Murphy said. “This administration can do more, this administration should do more. And I think it’s time to see some more urgency from the Biden Administration when it comes to the steps that they can take to save lives.”
Despite being on the receiving end of such criticism, it would come as a major surprise if the President heeded the call to push for new executive orders. His approval ratings are still underwater, and he is currently staring down a burgeoning foreign policy crisis in Ukraine and a looming Supreme Court confirmation battle that will consume much of his remaining political capital for the forseeable future.
His tepid remarks at the State of the Union were more than likely a display of political solidarity with the gun-control advocates in his party. They show President Biden is unlikely to begin a push for new gun measures anytime soon.