Is President Joe Biden doing enough to fulfill his gun control policy aims?
“Five years ago, it was guns. Four years ago, it was guns. Last night it was guns. This morning it was guns, and right now, it’s guns. It’s guns, guns, guns, guns.” This was the message delivered in 1994 by then-Senator Biden to reporters amid Congressional negotiations for the crime bill that he had helped author, a bill that faced a major remaining obstacle in the form of a controversial assault weapons ban.
Nearly 30 years later, much the same could be said for today’s America, albeit in a different context. The annual volume of mass shootings continues to rise with each passing year; already we have reached 147 in 2021 and 110 during the Biden administration. The number of shootings varies widely based upon how a mass shooting is defined. Some include the perpetrators as victims in instances where they were shot, and some disagree on the necessary number of casualties for a shooting to be deemed a “mass” shooting. In this piece, “mass shooting” is defined as an incident where four people are injured or killed by shots fired by one or more assailants.
In recent weeks, the problem of gun control has begun to resurface in the American news cycle. Most notably, the shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, shopping mall March 22 by Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa; a shooting in Rock Hill, South Carolina; and a shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility have collectively claimed the lives of 26 people, injuring an additional eight.
Following the Boulder shooting, Biden declared in a news conference that he would not “wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.”
Since that news conference, however, Biden has not continued to show the same level of commitment toward promoting gun control reform. In subsequent news conferences, he has sidestepped the question and quickly changed the subject to infrastructure, saying that the implementation of further gun control legislation was a “matter of timing.”
Recent polls suggest that the American public would be supportive of greater gun legislation. A USA Today poll conducted March 23 and 24, immediately following the Boulder shooting, indicated that approximately 67% of Americans support various levels of expanded gun control legislation, with 41% saying that they were in favor of making laws “a lot more strict” than they currently are. That 41% is a 9% drop since the same poll was last conducted in 2019.
To pass meaningful gun control legislation, President Biden would need the support of at least 10 Senate Republicans, and Republican support for gun control legislation has dropped precipitously since the last USA Today-Ipsos poll, from 54% in 2019 to 35% in the newest poll.
On April 8, Biden unveiled six new executive orders that he believes will combat the “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of American gun violence. One order cracks down on “ghost guns,” guns made from homemade parts that lack serial numbers, while another order tackles the issue of pistol stabilizing braces like the one used in Boulder. Biden — and gun control advocates outside the administration — has made it clear that while this is a strong start, there is still more to be done on the gun control front.
If Biden wants to further cooperate with Congress to establish greater gun control measures, it would be wise of him to make use of his presidential power to persuade, one of the President’s most potent inherent powers. It may also be prudent for Biden to make use of his presidential “bully pulpit” by communicating with the public and pressuring Congress into further considering legislation.
The ability to leverage the office of the President to advance his agenda is not something that Biden should take lightly, and because he has asserted that more remains to be done, he should consider adopting the presidential power to persuade as one of the main weapons in his arsenal to pass legislation through Congress, which could potentially save thousands of American lives.
Jakob R. Gibson is a sophomore at Westminster College in Fulton studying political science and pre-law.