US President Joe Biden has announced action to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America.
The new steps include moves to crack down on so-called “ghost guns” -- homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and are often purchased without a background check.
The president had proposed the most ambitious gun controls of any modern presidential candidate but faces opposition from people who see gun controls as an infringement of a constitutional right to bear arms.
He is introducing the measures through an executive order which does not need the approval of Congress but said much more is needed.
President Biden is also moving to tighten regulations on pistol-stabilising braces like the one used in a shooting in Boulder, Colorado, last month that left 10 dead.
His announcement came the day after yet another incident, this one in South Carolina, where five people were killed.
In his election campaign, Biden promised to ban the importation of assault weapons and pledged to provide resources for the Justice Department and FBI to better enforce the nation’s current gun laws and track firearms.
Gun control advocates lauded Thursday's moves as a strong first step in combating gun violence but acknowledged that action from lawmakers on Capitol Hill is needed to make lasting change.
"Some of the other big-ticket items are legislative," said Josh Horowitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "And that’s going to be very difficult."
But with an evenly-divided Senate and any gun control legislation requiring 60 votes to pass, Democrats would have to keep every member of their narrow majority on board while somehow adding 10 Republicans.
Horowitz said "it’s hard to think" who those Republicans would be, and though that doesn't mean it's impossible to move on gun control "we’re going to have to change some of the people who are in the Senate."
Gun control advocates hope for further action
Advocates of gun control say the power of the pro-gun lobby has been weakened because of legal and financial issues within the once mighty National Rifle Association. But so far that has not materialised in votes as most Republicans argue that strengthened checks could take guns away from law-abiding gun owners.
A small group of senators is trying to find compromise based on a 2013 deal that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales but was rejected then by five votes and even some of the limited moves Biden took Thursday had already been making their way through the bureaucracy.
The federal government has been working on a proposed rule that would change the definition of a firearm which would help to combat the proliferation of “ghost guns” and stave off losing court battles on the issue.
While Biden said the moves he took Thursday were just the beginning of his administration's actions on guns, it is not known what further steps he will be willing or able to take.
Biden mentioned a formidable list of priorities he would like to see Congress tackle, including passing the Violence Against Women Act and eliminating lawsuit exemptions for gun manufacturers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
With Biden already focused on passing his €1.9 trillion ($2.3 trillion) infrastructure package, after delivering a massive COVID-19 relief bill, it is unclear how much political capital he has to spend to get any gun-control bills across the finish line.
Although some activists praised Biden for his executive actions on Thursday, they said they wanted to see him more actively involved in the fight on Capitol Hill.
“I think he needs to engage directly and I think he needs to be counting the votes. I’m not sure what he’s waiting for,” said Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America.
He said Biden; “could do more in using the presidential bully pulpit” to communicate with the public about the need for gun control measures and to pressure Congress to act.
“As he pointed out on the campaign trail, repeatedly, there’s no time to wait to act on this issue. So my view is that this should be a priority for him,” Volsky said.