Biden announces steps aimed at curbing US gun violence ‘epidemic’

President proposes new measure to regulate ‘ghost guns’ lacking serial numbers

US president Joe Biden speaking about gun-control measures at the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Photograph: Amr Alfiky/New York Times

US president Joe Biden speaking about gun-control measures at the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Photograph: Amr Alfiky/New York Times


US president Joe Biden announced several executive actions at tightening rules around gun ownership as he described the gun violence epidemic in the United States as an “international embarrassment”.

Speaking at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Mr Biden proposed a new rule to regulate so-called “ghost guns” – weapons that are assembled from constituent pieces and lack serial numbers, making it difficult for them to be traced.

Under the new system, such guns would be legally classified as firearms for the first time, and buyers would be subject to background checks. He also announced plans to regulate arm braces – equipment that makes guns more stable and accurate and have been used in lethal shootings in the past.

But even as he made the announcement, Mr Biden admitted that it was “just a start” and that much more remained to be done to tackle the country’s gun violence problem.

Comprehensive gun reform requires legislative changes approved by Congress, and there is significant Republican resistance to efforts to curb gun ownership.

Background checks

Earlier this year, the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives passed two Bills strengthening background checks. But the legislation has yet to be taken up by the Senate. Gun-control legislation would need to pass the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the upper house, and Democrats hold only 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber.

Nonetheless, Mr Biden expressed optimism that meaningful gun-control legislation would eventually be passed.

“I know it’s painful and frustrating that we haven’t made the progress we hoped for . . . no matter how long it takes, we’re going to get these passed. We’re not going to give up,” he said.

Many of those present at the White House event had been directly impacted by gun violence. These included the parents of Daniel Barden, a seven-year-old boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Connecticut in 2012, and Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, two years ago. Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head while meeting constituents in Arizona in 2012 but survived the attack, also attended, as well as members of Congress who have been at the forefront of efforts to curb gun violence such as senator Chris Murphy.

Mr Biden thanked those present for attending. “They’re here, and their pain is immense,” he said, noting that such an event “brings back when you got that phone call . . . brings back the immediacy of what happened at that moment. Thank you for having the courage.”

Mr Biden laid out in stark terms the scale of America’s gun violence challenge. “Every day in this country 316 are shot . . . 106 of them die, every day,” he said.

“The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation,” he said, noting that gun violence remained the leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 15 and 34.

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment.”

Appeal to Republicans

He also indirectly appealed to Republicans to support measures to regulate weapons in the US, noting that the “overwhelming majority of Americans” wanted change.

“I know that the conversation about guns in this country can be a difficult one, but even here there’s much more common ground than anyone would believe.”

He said that the rules he was proposing were “totally consistent with the second amendment” – the constitutional provision that gives Americans the right to bear arms.  

“I know that progress, even in those most difficult of issues, is possible,” he said.

Mr Biden’s focus on gun-control measures comes in the wake of a number of mass shootings in the US in recent weeks. Last month, eight people, including six Asian-American women, were killed in a series of shootings at massage parlours in Georgia.

Just over a week later, 10 people were killed by a shooter at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

On Wednesday evening, a man, believed to be an ex-NFL player, shot five people dead in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Mr Biden had faced criticism from some gun-control campaigners for not doing more to prioritise gun-control measures during his first few months in office, as promised during his election campaign. Throughout his decades as a senator, Mr Biden was centrally involved in efforts to regulate guns in the US, including the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines introduced during the Clinton administration.