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The actions that President Biden could take to address gun safety


On the night of the massacre at Robb Elementary School, President Biden called on Congress to pass gun safety legislation, as he has many times before.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's time to turn this pain into action.

PFEIFFER: Without Congress, Biden has taken numerous executive actions to address gun violence over the past year, but advocates say it isn't enough. So what more could the president do? NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Ten days ago, as he returned from consoling families devastated by the last headline-grabbing mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., President Biden was asked if there were executive actions he could take to help.


BIDEN: Not much on executive action. I've got to convince the Congress that we should go back to what I passed years ago.

KEITH: Biden was talking about the assault weapons ban he shepherded through Congress in the 1990s. It sunsetted a decade later, and he readily admits such legislation would be difficult now.

ROBIN LLOYD: It's the No. 1 killer of children.

KEITH: That is, gun violence. Robin Lloyd is the managing director of Giffords, a gun safety organization. She says there need to be more people at high levels of government fully dedicated to solving this.

LLOYD: Gun safety is a public health issue. Who's that person at the Department of Health and Human Services? That person doesn't exist. Should that person exist? Is gun violence a tremendous public health issue in this country? Absolutely.

KEITH: Some gun safety advocates are pushing for the creation of an Office of Gun Violence Prevention to harness the power of the federal government to address a problem that has only gotten worse in recent years. White House officials insist the approach they have now is working, housing administration efforts in the Domestic Policy Council. Stefanie Feldman is a senior advisor on the council, and coordinating gun violence prevention is part of her portfolio.

STEFANIE FELDMAN: You need criminal justice experts at the table, you need education experts at the table, you need mental health experts at the table in order to figure out how to move all the different pieces of the puzzle to address the issue. And the way you bring all those people to the table is through the power of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.

KEITH: Since early on, the Biden administration has taken numerous actions aimed at reducing gun violence and gun suicides, including cracking down on untraceable ghost guns, pushing for secure storage of weapons and funding community violence intervention programs. But Igor Volsky of Guns Down America says advocates have provided the Biden administration with a long list of additional actions they could be taking, as recently as after the Buffalo mass shooting.

IGOR VOLSKY: I, frankly, think it's embarrassing that after 19 children died, the White House has chosen to underscore all that they have done and to somehow imply that that's enough.

KEITH: The nation's largest gun safety organization, Everytown, says what the Biden administration has done is making a difference. But Nick Suplina, the group's senior vice president for law and policy, says he'd also like to see Biden issue an executive order defining who is engaged in the business of selling firearms.

NICK SUPLINA: This is a vagary in the law - that the president can issue an executive order that would cut illegal guns off at the source by clearly defining who needs to be licensed to sell guns based on how many guns they sell or whether they're selling on commercial marketplaces.

KEITH: The White House's Feldman says the administration is looking at its options.

FELDMAN: We are going to build on the actions we've taken in the months ahead and look to find additional actions we can take, but we're not starting from square one here. We are driving forward.

KEITH: Though she didn't get into the details of what is being considered.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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