There is disagreement among Democrats and potentially within Joe Biden’s planned administration on what executive action he can take regarding guns. While some claim Biden could use an executive order to institute gun measures, Biden recently warned that he would exercise caution on executive orders.
Biden campaigned on passing radical gun control measures. However, with the Senate majority still up for grabs and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, indicating during his campaign that he would vote to protect Second Amendment rights, Biden’s chances of legislative success on gun control is considered unlikely. His transition team has since indicated that Biden would rely on executive orders to push through bans on certain weapons and other gun control measures. However, in an audio recording leaked to the Intercept, Biden appears to be a lot less enthusiastic about the prospect of taking any action on guns that might be unconstitutional.
Stef Feldman, national policy director for the Biden campaign, recently spoke at a Zoom briefing held by Georgetown University and stated that Biden plans to “make big, bold changes through executive action, not just on policing and climate like we talked about previously, but in healthcare and education, on gun violence, on a range of issues.” She also said, “There’s really a lot you can do through guidance and executive action.”
Her statements are not surprising considering Biden’s policy objectives. Biden has pledged to institute severe restrictions on gun ownership, including banning the manufacturing of “assault weapons,” regulating the possession of existing assault weapons, banning online sales of guns and gun parts, and more.
However, in audio that was recently leaked to the Intercept, Biden contradicts these expectations. Biden conducted a virtual meeting with civil rights leaders who asked him to enact executive action on several issues. Biden advised that he would exercise more restraint than they hoped for regarding executive orders. He pledged to undo everything that President Trump did by executive order but insisted that he could not enact all his policy desires through executive order. Biden said, “I am not going to violate the Constitution. Executive authority that my progressive friends talk about is way beyond the bounds.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper during the presidential campaign, Biden was asked if he was coming for people’s guns, to which he responded, “Bingo! You’re right, if you have an ‘assault weapon.’ The fact of the matter is they should be illegal, period.”
Biden had long been expected to use executive orders to accomplish his goals because his proposals will be a hard sell in the Senate. If Republicans win the Georgia runoffs for two Senate seats, it is almost certain that gun control measures would not pass. However, even if Democrats do win both of those races, gaining a 50-50 split in the Senate with vice president Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker, it is still unlikely that these gun control measures would pass the legislature.
Many red state Democrats would be hesitant to vote for any major gun control legislation that would anger their constituents, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, who is up for re-election in 2022, indicated during a recent virtual townhall that he would protect Second Amendment rights. Moreover, he came out after the election and announced that, even if the Democrats gain two seats in the Senate, he would not be the 50th vote that advances a radical or socialist agenda.
In the leaked audio, though, Biden seems uninterested in the idea of taking unilateral action on his gun goals. While conducting a virtual meeting with civil rights leaders who asked him to enact executive action on several issues, Biden advised that he will exercise more restraint than they hoped for regarding executive orders. He did pledge to undo everything that President Trump did by executive order but stated that he could not enact all his policy desires through executive order. Biden said, “I am not going to violate the Constitution. Executive authority that my progressive friends talk about is way beyond the bounds.”
“I’m not going to exercise executive authority where it’s a question, where I can come along and say, ‘I can do away with assault weapons.’ There’s no executive authority to do away with that. And no one has fought harder to get rid of assault weapons than me, me, but you can’t do it by executive order. We do that, next guy comes along and says, ‘Well, guess what? By executive order, I guess everybody can have machine guns again.’ So, we gotta be careful.”
What’s more, Biden advised caution on police reform, saying, “Also, don’t think we should get too far ahead of ourselves on dealing with police reform.” He claimed that Republicans used “defund the police” to achieve large gains in Congress.
Biden assured civil rights leaders that police reform would get done, but Biden’s moderation of the progressive agenda angered some in the left’s more progressive wing. Biden’s transition team responded by trying to ease concerns that Biden was turning away from the candidate they had voted for. They explained in a statement,
“President-elect Biden is the same person behind closed doors that he is public; honest, direct and realistic about the challenges facing our nation the day he is sworn in. As he made clear throughout the campaign, he believes in supporting bold and urgent reform to our criminal justice system while continuing to support law enforcement’s mission to keep our communities safe.”
Biden is no stranger to flip-flops, as is seen in his 180-degree turn last year on his long-held support for the Hyde Amendment. It is possible that Biden will change his position again and use an executive order to enact gun control measures, as that does seem to be his campaign’s intention. In order to pass such restrictive gun measures, Biden will likely need to use an executive order as such a law would be unpopular among both Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress. Whether he uses executive orders or not, the Biden administration will clearly be pushing to restrict Second Amendment rights.