Biden Skips Guns in Day One Executive Orders

White House has yet to make good on Biden campaign pledge for gun restrictions

Joe Biden Sworn In As 46th President Of The United States At U.S. Capitol Inauguration Ceremony
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January 21, 2021

President Joe Biden (D.) used a historic number of executive orders on his first day in office to deliver on promises made to indebted students, environmentalists, and immigration activists while turning a cold shoulder to gun-control advocates.

Biden's 17 actions dealt with issues from freezing payments and interest rates on student loans to revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit to rejoining the Paris Agreement and World Health Organization. His administration announced plans for further executive actions on climate change, health care, immigration, and national security by the end of the month. Despite boasting on his campaign website that he "knows how to make progress on reducing gun violence using executive action" and being historically aggressive in his use of day one executive orders—issuing more than Trump, Obama, Bush, and Clinton combined—gun control was not part of the day one blitz, and no future executive actions on guns have been announced.

The Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Experts said Biden's lack of immediate movement on gun control signals it could be a lesser issue for the incoming administration. They pointed to the controversial nature of the issue and the marginal political benefit executive action offers to Democrats. 

Jake Charles, executive director of Duke University's Center for Firearms Law, told the Free Beacon "many of yesterday’s orders are less controversial than might be first-day executive action on guns." He said the lack of action could indicate the Biden administration plans to try to push gun legislation over pursuing executive actions—at least to begin with. Or it could signal a more cautious approach to the issue overall. 

"It’s possible the lack of first-day orders on gun issues may also signal a slower, more cautious approach to gun policy than some regulation advocates hoped—and slower too than the approach some regulation opponents feared," Charles said. 

Biden ran on historically strict gun proposals during the 2020 campaign promising to fight gun manufacturers as the "enemy" and impose new bans and taxes on popular firearms such as the AR-15 that could reach into the tens-of-billions of dollars. His campaign received $30 million in support from gun-control organizations like the Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety. Despite taking office after a record-setting year for gun sales and the emergence of an estimated 8.4 million new gun owners, experts expect Biden will act on gun control at some point during his tenure—even if it isn't among his top priorities. 

Robert Leider, an assistant professor at George Mason's Antonin Scalia Law School, said the evenly divided Senate means Biden will struggle to pass any new gun-control legislation and will likely have to resort to executive maneuvers eventually. He said there are several different ways Biden could tighten gun regulations without assistance from the legislative branch. 

"The Department of Justice, particularly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, will have primary rulemaking responsibility," Leider told the Free Beacon. "This rulemaking probably will not begin until President Biden has an adequate number of political appointees in place at the Department of Justice." 

Leider said the administration could target unfinished firearms receivers—sometimes called ghost guns—for new regulations, restrict the kinds of guns that can be imported to the United States under the "sporting purpose" exception, and expand the requirements for who must obtain a federal license before selling a gun. Charles said he believes Biden could repeat the Department of Justice rulemaking process used by former president Donald Trump (R.) to ban bumpstocks in an attempt to ban other devices like AR-15 pistol braces. 

The lack of executive orders on gun control did not diminish support from activists. Giffords, a gun-control group that spent millions to elect Democrats in the 2020 election, celebrated Biden's inauguration in an email to supporters on Wednesday. The activists insisted to supporters that the issue remains "a top priority."

"This issue is a top priority for President Biden and Vice President Harris," the email said. "The nation is behind them, and we have helped their transition team identify executive actions they can take on day one."

Giffords did not respond to requests for comment about the lack of "day one" action.