Did Biden Really Expand Background Checks?

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posted on March 21, 2023
Bidenjohnson
Matt Johnson courtesy Flickr

When President Joe Biden (D) recently gave a speech in Monterey Park, Calif., announcing his latest executive order on guns, the so-called “mainstream” media lapped it up.

“Biden Issues Executive Order to Expand Background Checks For Gun Purchases,” read a Reuters headline. Others, including foreign media, quickly jumped on the bandwagon. “U.S. President Signs New Executive Order Expanding Gun Background Checks,” read another. Even Fox News got in on the act, headlining their story, “Biden Announces Executive Order To Expand Gun Background Checks.”

In reality, Biden doesn’t have the authority to “expand” background checks, whether he knows it or not. The order actually directs various federal agencies to make life more difficult for firearms dealers that already obey the law—something Biden has been trying to do ever since taking office. As he knows, making it more difficult to sell guns makes it more difficult for law-abiding Americans to buy them.

The confusion of the headline writers likely came from the “Fact Sheet” distributed by the White House before the text of the executive order was released. It read: “Today, in Monterey Park, California, President Biden will announce an Executive Order with the goal of increasing the number of background checks conducted before firearm sales, moving the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation.”

That goal will not be met with this order.

Biden’s biggest attack on lawful Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) took the form of a four-part section within the order. Let’s take a look at each, and why each is either already a done deal or completely useless.

(i) Clarify the definition of who is engaged in the business of dealing in firearms, and thus required to become Federal firearms licensees (FFLs), in order to increase compliance with the Federal background check requirement for firearm sales, including by considering a rulemaking, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

Interestingly, this “clarification” of the definition was supposedly accomplished last year in the problematic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). Yet, as the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) pointed out in a recent news story covering the executive order, the “NRA opposed the [Bipartisan Safer Communities Act], warning that its vague language gave anti-gun officials nebulous authorities that could be abused to target law-abiding gun owners and firearm-related businesses.”.

Now, as predicted, the administration is hoping to use the ambiguity of that language to enforce the requirement of obtaining an FFL more broadly. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the BSCA that would support the imposition of “universal” background checks, and anyone who thinks otherwise is in for disappointment.

(ii) Prevent former FFLs whose licenses have been revoked or surrendered from continuing to engage in the business of dealing in firearms.

By law, if a dealer’s license has been revoked, then that dealer is already prohibited “from continuing to engage in the business of dealing in firearms,” just like anyone else who doesn’t have an active FFL. There are already federal firearms laws that strictly regulate anyone engaging “in the business of dealing in firearms,” irrespective of if they are current FFL holders, past FFL holders, or have never held an FFL. This “directive” changes nothing.

(iii) Publicly release, to the fullest extent permissible by law, inspection reports of FFL dealers cited for violations of the law.

Aggregate data on violations can be, and has often been, released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). What Biden seems to want, however, is to publicly shame dealers, even if they make only small paperwork errors.

“President Biden’s Executive Order demanding the release of ATF inspection reports is nothing short of a political witch hunt,” Mark Oliva, NSSF’s managing director of public relations, said in an exclusive interview with America’s 1st Freedom. “This is his administration’s attempt to name-and-shame firearm retailers for what could be minor clerical errors that are noted during inspections. President Biden has instituted a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy of firearm retailers, which has seen closed ATF reports opened and federal firearms licenses revoked. This is his administration’s attempt to suppress the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.” 

(iv) Support efforts to modernize and make permanent the Undetectable Firearms Act (18 U.S.C. 922(p)).

Biden apparently pulled this one out of thin air, and it’s puzzling, indeed, since there’s no concerted effort to fight against the law. So-called “undetectable” firearms have been a favorite anti-gun bogeyman since Glock introduced the G17 with a polymer frame back in the 1980s. That gun was detectable by airport screening equipment even back then, long before today’s improved, state-of-the-art equipment was available.

The Undetectable Firearms Act, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, bans the manufacture, sale and possession of firearms with less than 3.7 ounces of steel in them. Since all commercially produced guns contain more steel than that, it’s likely that few—if any—murders have ever been committed with guns that violate that law. If Biden’s real goal is to make Americans safer, that section of the executive order certainly won’t do it.

In the end, the NRA summed things up in its response to the latest Biden executive action targeting America’s lawful gun owners: “Crimes are committed by criminals,” the NRA tweeted after Biden’s announcement. “Until President Biden and his allies decide to go after violent criminals, violence will continue to spiral out of control as it has. The focus of our laws and efforts should be on the criminal element and not on law-abiding Americans.”

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