Biden Issues Executive Order to Strengthen Background Checks for Guns

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — In the nearly nine months since President Biden signed into law a series of gun safety measures last summer, scores of Americans have been killed or wounded in mass shootings across the country: in the Illinois suburbs, at a Virginia university, in an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub in Colorado, and at a dance studio in this Los Angeles suburb.

Throughout that time, Mr. Biden has vowed to seek passage of a new ban on assault weapons “come hell or high water.” But the president and his aides have acknowledged there is virtually no chance of that happening in a Congress that remains deeply divided over how to confront the slaughter of its citizens in repeated spasms of gun-related violence.

So Mr. Biden is traveling on Tuesday to Monterey Park, where a gunman killed 11 people in January at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, to announce a handful of steps designed to improve enforcement of existing laws that have so far failed to prevent mass shootings in one American community after another.

The visit, and the announcement of a new executive order, is Mr. Biden’s latest attempt to express his horror over the continued loss of life and to demonstrate his administration’s effort to reduce the chance of another mass shooting.

But the president is constrained by the Second Amendment and a political system that has so far refused to make progress on his demands for universal background checks for gun sales, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and the repeal of immunity from liability for gun manufacturers.

Mr. Biden’s new executive order is far more modest. It directs the attorney general to make sure gun dealers are complying with existing background check laws. It seeks to improve reporting of guns and ammunition that is lost or stolen while in transit. It calls for better transparency about gun dealers who are cited for firearms violations. And it directs agencies to work with the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network to improve the quality of investigations into gun crimes.

Some gun control advocates praised Mr. Biden for the new order. John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said the effort to crack down on gun dealers “will significantly expand background checks on gun sales, keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people and save lives.”

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But few advocates think that the steps the president is announcing on Tuesday will bring an end to the country’s routine gun violence.

Even Mr. Biden appears to acknowledge that reality in the executive order that he signed ahead of the visit to Monterey Park. In the order’s preamble, the president wrote that Congress must still take additional steps to make sure gun violence is no longer the “enduring reality of life in America” that it has become.

“I continue to call on the Congress to take additional action,” he wrote. “In the meantime, my administration will continue to do all that we can, within existing authority, to make our communities safer.”

That message is likely to play a central role in Mr. Biden’s expected re-election campaign, as he seeks to win the support of voters who believe that the government should do more to limit gun violence. The president and his aides are keenly aware of the need to make sure those voters see him trying — even if shootings continue.

Mr. Biden has hailed the gun legislation that passed last summer as one of the few examples of bipartisan cooperation. Congress passed the measure after shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo.

Tuesday’s executive order is primarily an effort to make sure federal agencies are putting last year’s law into practice — and to generate fresh headlines about Mr. Biden’s efforts to assert his limited authority.

David Hogg, a co-founder of March for Our Lives and a survivor of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said in a statement that he was pleased to see Mr. Biden taking action.

“In poll after poll, gun safety is a winning issue in elections,” Mr. Hogg wrote. “Americans and young people don’t care about excuses. We care about results. Wielding his wide-ranging presidential powers are an important way the president can cut through congressional gridlock and demonstrate action on gun safety. It’s the morally right thing to do, and it will win the youth vote in 2024.”

Whether that ends up being true could depend in part on whether the actions Mr. Biden announces are seen as playing a role in preventing at least some of the mass shootings that would have occurred without them.

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