Faced with polls showing that support for stricter gun control is lower than it has been in years and a Congress that has, thus far, rejected the more radical among his ideas, President Joe Biden (D) has decided to fall back on lies.
During a speech in which he announced a slew of executive orders, Biden ran through a veritable Greatest Hits of misleading gun-control talking points. He said that “nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment.” This is false. He said that “if you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check, but you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want and no background check.” This is false. He said that “universal background checks are supported by the vast majority of the American people.” This is false. And he said that “the only industry in America, a billion-dollar industry, that can’t be sued, that’s exempt from being sued, are gun manufacturers.” This is false.
Biden alternated between insisting that the Second Amendment is “not absolute,” which is technically true but practically meaningless, and arguing that none of his proposals “in any way impinges” on the provision, which is a lie.
It is correct that the U.S. Bill of Rights leaves room for exceptions at the margin; felons, for example, are not permitted to own guns. But it does not follow from this that whatever the president wishes to do is acceptable—especially given that this president wants to prohibit the AR-15 and to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, both of which are protected by Heller’s “in common use” standard.
Doubling down, Biden proposed that “from the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own.” Naturally, though, he failed to elaborate beyond that. Why? Because it’s simply not true. The first federal gun law, remember, was passed in 1934, and, crucially, even that prohibited nothing.
The president’s gaslighting continued throughout his attempt to sell “universal background checks,” which he pretended were unanimously popular and justified with a myth that was first debunked in 1994. “You go to a gun show,” Biden said, “you can buy whatever you want and no background check.” But you can’t. Under the 1993 Brady Act, the same rules apply to gun shows as apply everywhere else: If a person is in the business of selling firearms, he is obliged to run a background check on his customers wherever the transaction takes place; if, by contrast, he is not in the business, then any private transfers in which he engages are subject to the rules set by his state.
As for Biden’s claim that his plan is popular? That is correct only until the discussion reaches the details. When asked vaguely whether they favor “background checks,” supermajorities of Americans will say that they do. When asked how that should be achieved, however, they disagree strongly—which is why referenda on this question invariably pass or fail by a couple of points and why Congress has steadfastly declined to amend the existing rules.
Biden wrapped up with what may be the worst falsehood of all: That the firearms industry is “the only industry in America ... that can’t be sued.” This is nonsense. As Biden knows, the protections the firearms industry enjoys—as codified in the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act—are limited to the misuse of their products by a third party. In other words, gunmakers are protected if a criminal uses one of their pistols in a crime, but not if one of their pistols malfunctions or is badly made. This law exists because bad-faith actors were attempting to use the courts to get by fiat what they could not get via legislation—or, in other words, because bad actors were attempting to perform exactly the same circumvention as President Biden is trying to achieve with his pen, his phone and his many, many lies.