Republicans will automatically object; Democrats will automatically cheer. It’s shirts v. skins out there, and that’s just how the game is played.
For the rest of us, however, it’s useful to have the details and judge based on them, rather than on what team scored the point.
The White House has released a fact sheet; it’s fairly easy reading. So far so good. But what does it actually mean?
- Ghost Guns: This is a law enforcement term for unregistered homemade guns crafted using machine tools. Back in the 1930s and 40s, these were known as “zip guns” or “bang sticks”, and were usually single-shot affairs made from plumbing supplies; today, with advances in tech, it’s quite possible to make a functioning mock-Glock using little more than a plastic block and a Dremel. Present law doesn’t categorize these the same as other guns; it’s a no-brainer that it should — so far, so good.
The only dangers here lie in the implementation: Will this require me to stamp a serial number on my inert Civil War musket? Divers use bang-sticks as an emergency anti-shark device; do they now need a five-day waiting period and a background check before they go swimming? Is a person watching a YouTube video on gunsmithing now grounds for a warrant? Probably no / yes / yes; depends on how well the order is written; we’ll know in 30 days.
- Arm Braces: Handguns are used for crimes far more often than rifles. Arm braces are support attachments that stabilize handguns, effectively converting them to short-barreled rifles — far more accurate, but still easily concealable. Again, this is a case of the law moving to catch up with technology, and the justice of the new regulations will be found in their wording — this time, 60 days from now.
- Red Flag Laws: States will be passing these individually over the next few years. They’re designed to permit law enforcement agencies to temporarily restrict people with psychological problems from possessing guns during times of crisis. The Administration is designing sample legislation designed to avoid privacy entanglements on the one hand and gun rights objections on the other. This is simple efficiency. Arguably it should be done by partisan think-tanks rather than a federal agency, but why quibble? It’ll save taxpayers tons of money that otherwise would be wasted in unnecessary legal actions. This way, one court challenge will decide them all.
- Community Violence Interventions: Let’s be honest here — This is straight out of the NRA’s own playbook. Guns don’t shoot up the local Piggly Wiggly; crazy people do. The only difficulty with this is the pitifully tiny amount of money — a mere $5 billion — but that’s understandable because it’s Congress that has the power to do budgets and appropriations, not the White House. Still, this is a first step that both sides of the aisle can (and do) support.
- Firearms Trafficking: The President has directed Justice to issue an annual report on illegal firearms trafficking. Justice is one executive department that is historically apolitical, and both sides of the gun rights debate will agree that one thing that’s sorely lacking is a full understanding of the facts. Better data can only improve the situation; only professional lobbyists have a legitimate vested interest in objecting to this, and screw ’em.
- Director of ATF: There hasn’t been a confirmed director since 2015. Biden is nominating a particularly contentious candidate, David Chipman. We’ve found his résumé.
There’s a rumor circulating in underground media that he was arrested in 1979 for homosexual solicitation at BYU in Utah; this is definitely not true. That was a different David Chipman. This fellow went to Phillips Exeter up in New Hampshire along with a lot of trust fund kids, graduating half a dozen years after Tom Steyer and rather longer after serial killer H. H. Holmes. None of which matters much.
More germane is his 25 years of experience within A.T.F., followed by his paid advocacy for ShotSpotter and advisorships in anti-gun groups. It’s also notable that he was in charge of the A.T.F.’s Firearms Programs Division during the opening days of what later became known of “Operation Fast & Furious”. As such, it’s likely he’ll see a great deal of opposition, which is unfortunate given his high level of expertise.
Obviously, both sides will object for partisan reasons; both sides will attempt to use this as a rallying cry and a fundraising tool. But that’s just normal partisan hype. Speaking generally, there’s nothing very objectionable here, at least in principle. In practice, certain aspects may be problematic, but that’s tomorrow’s worry; we’ll find out then.
The one potentially valid objection by Democrats will be that this doesn’t go far enough; as a contention, that’s almost beyond dispute. Even Republicans will agree that more money needs to be allocated for community violence intervention programs; they’re the single best tool against gun violence — indeed, the only aspect of this that can have a positive impact on the suicidal, who are by far the most frequent misusers of guns. A little thought here will show that we can’t blame Biden for this, since it’s clearly the responsibility of Congress. He’s doing his job by pointing the way.
The one potentially valid objection by Republicans (aside from Chipman) is the possibility of privacy violations resulting from misapplication of the first three steps. Vigilance will indeed be necessary to prevent this — but that’s always the case these days. We already imprison greater than one percent of the populace; the last thing we need is more ways to arrest people. On the other hand, since these may be effective methods of crime prevention, it’s arguable that we’ll end up merely arresting people sooner than otherwise and with fewer casualties.
Bottom Line: No, this is not them taking your guns, nor is it (yet) executive overreach. Stay tuned for more.
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