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Biden Intends To Curb 'Epidemic' Of Gun Violence With Executive Action

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It was just two weeks ago that President Biden made it seem pretty clear he was not eager to move the intractable gun debate to the top of his agenda, even in the wake of two mass shootings. But today, the president did just that by announcing a number of actions to curb a serious rise in gun violence in the U.S. over the past year. NPR political reporter Juana Summers has been following the story and joins us now. Hey, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: So tell us what the president plans to do here.

SUMMERS: Yeah, so the president announced a number of initiatives, including efforts to restrict ghost guns. Those are firearms without serial numbers that are sold in kits and assembled at home. Another proposed Justice Department rule would seek to regulate devices that can be placed on pistols to effectively turn them into short-barrelled rifles. He announced new investments to community violence intervention programs, which is something that a number of advocates had been pushing the administration on. And the president also announced his intent to nominate David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a permanent director since 2015.

CHANG: Right. OK. So what is the argument that the administration seems to be making today to justify all of these actions?

SUMMERS: Well, Ailsa, it's an argument about urgency. We heard President Biden talk about the two high-profile mass shootings that happened in the span of less than a week in the Atlanta area and later in Boulder, Colo. And then he talked about everything that happened in the days in between.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You probably didn't hear, but between those two incidents less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings - 850 that took the lives of more than 250 people and left 500 - 500 - injured. This is an epidemic, for God's sake, and it has to stop.

SUMMERS: What really struck me in listening to the president talk about this is that the argument he's making is so multifaceted. He talked about the economic impacts of gun violence. He also made very clear that beyond these mass shootings, the epidemic of everyday gun violence is quite deadly, and it disproportionately impacts Black people and Latinos.

CHANG: I mean, the president has also been calling on Congress to act, right? But there's been this stalemate on this particular issue for so long, and with such a closely divided Senate, is the White House really making a serious push for legislation at this moment?

SUMMERS: Both the president and senior administration officials are talking about the politics of this quite directly. We heard the president say repeatedly even that these actions do not infringe on the Second Amendment, which is the argument that Republicans in the National Rifle Association have been making. And he also seemed to acknowledge the years-long struggle to get Congress to do anything to change the nation's gun laws. Earlier today, I talked with Susan Rice, who's the head of the president's Domestic Policy Council.

SUSAN RICE: I believe and I think President Biden believes that because the American people are fed up with daily violence in our schools and our communities and on our streets, fed up with the fact that over a hundred Americans are dying every day, 300 are being shot every day, that there is a real opportunity for rational policy and rational law to be passed on a bipartisan basis. And the president is committed to working to try to make that happen.

SUMMERS: Biden and Rice both emphasized today that more needs to be done.

CHANG: While leading up to today, gun control groups have criticized President Biden for not making gun legislation a top priority, as he promised he would on the campaign trail. So what are those groups saying now with these executive actions?

SUMMERS: They're glad that Biden is making good on that promise, but there is also a sense for many that this is a first step. Fatimah Loren Dreier of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention was at the White House today.

FATIMAH LOREN DREIER: I know that there are incredible advocates who will continue to fight - and they should. And we should celebrate this day. And we should continue fighting. There is always work to do. As long as gun violence rages in our cities, there'll be work to do.

SUMMERS: Others say Biden could do more on his own in the absence of congressional action.

CHANG: That is NPR's Juana Summers. Thank you, Juana.

SUMMERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.

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