Biden Attorney General Nominee Pleads Ignorance on Gun Control Limits

Chief Judge Merrick Garland / AP
March 4, 2021

President Joe Biden's pick for the top law enforcement post in America told the Senate that he is uninformed about important gun issues, as he faces what could be a close confirmation vote.

Merrick Garland told Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) he was unfamiliar with key gun policy areas in written answers made public Wednesday night. He said he did not know enough about the topic to say whether Biden could unilaterally deny gun sales by permanently delaying background checks. He used the same explanation when asked if Biden could ban the sale of popular rifles like the AR-15—something Biden promised to make law during his campaign. 

"I am unfamiliar with this issue and cannot offer an opinion on that question," Garland said of the unilateral AR-15 ban. 

If confirmed to be the next attorney general, Garland would advise President Biden on if and how he can pursue gun-related executive actions. Garland testified in late February that Biden does have the ability to pursue some gun-control measures without Congress passing new laws. His combined comments indicate he believes Biden is entitled to impose new gun restrictions but does not know what limits, if any, there are to that power. 

"As I’m sure you know, the president is a strong supporter of gun control and has been an advocate all of his life, professional life, on this question," Garland said during his confirmation hearing. "The role of the Justice Department is to advance the policy program of the administration as long as it is consistent with the law. And, as I said, so far we have a little indication from the Supreme Court as to what this means. But we don’t have a complete indication. And where there is room under the law for the president’s policies to be pursued, then I think the president is entitled to pursue them." 

Critics have accused Garland of not being forthcoming about his views on several important issues. Cotton said he would delay Garland's nomination and asked him for more information. 

"Democrats are trying to expedite Judge Garland’s confirmation vote," he said on Wednesday. "I’m blocking them because Judge Garland has refused to answer basic questions."

Cotton accused Democrats of treating Garland's nomination differently than former attorney general Bill Barr. 

"Ensuring the Senate has time to debate these issues and get answers is the same thing that Senate Democrats did for Bill Barr," he said. "We’re not going to have one standard for Trump’s nominees and another for Biden’s." 

Cotton's action is likely to delay Garland's confirmation for around a week but unlikely to stop it as the entire Democratic caucus and a handful of Republicans have indicated they will vote to confirm him.