Many of the measures President Joe Biden announced Thursday as an effort to curb gun violence have already been enacted in some form in Washington state.
That doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of praise, said Renee Hopkins, chief executive officer of the nonprofit the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
“It’s a huge victory to see some of the things we have already done in Washington state being included in Biden’s plan,” said Hopkins, whose Seattle-based group has pushed for reforms that include more stringent background checks and making the process to purchase and assemble so-called “untraceable” guns more difficult.
Local gun shop owners said Biden’s address raised more questions than it answered. State laws vary widely, including in Washington and Idaho, and it’s unclear what effect the guidance from the Justice Department will have on sales. That’s particularly true of attempting to regulate the purchase of stabilizing attachments like the kind used by the shooter in Boulder, Colorado, last month, owners said.
“I’ve sold a lot of braces the last couple of years,” said Nick Lange, owner of Praetorian Armory & Coatings in Coeur d’Alene. “I’m not sure how anybody can try to track all that down.”
The Congressional Research Service, in a report published in February, estimated anywhere from 10 million to 40 million such attachments are already in circulation in the United States.
As part of the directives Biden announced Thursday from the Rose Garden of the White House, the Justice Department will explore ways to reduce the availability of the stabilizing attachments. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms in December announced, and then quickly rescinded, its intention to reclassify “heavier” pistols that used a stabilizing brace as a short-barrel rifle, a provision that would potentially require more stringent vetting before the firearm could be bought.
The directives from the Biden administration targeting so-called “ghost guns” and the stabilizing braces had little effect on sales Thursday at Precision Combat Arms on Trent Avenue, owner Clint Olson said.
“It didn’t generate a lot of panic,” said Olson, who noted that Thursday had been a slow sales day compared to the past couple of weeks.
That could be because Olson didn’t sell too many “ghost gun” kits even before a state law prohibiting their manufacture with intent to sell in Washington. Neither did Lange in Coeur d’Alene, although Idaho has no law prohibiting the sale of such kits. Most buy them online and they’re shipped to private residences, Olson and Lange said.
Other measures President Biden announced Thursday are likely to have a larger effect in Washington state, including additional Justice Department grants to address community violence, said Margaret Heldring, co-chair of the nonprofit Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, also based in Seattle.
“The appropriation of so much money into community-based work is hugely significant,” Heldring said, referring to the $5 billion that would be set aside as part of a larger infrastructure package the Biden administration revealed last week. Heldring noted that such work would particularly benefit communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by gun violence.
The Biden administration also announced the future release of a model federal policy permitting family members and law enforcement to petition courts to restrict gun possession and sales to those deemed violent. Such a so-called “red flag” law exists in Washington, where it’s known as an “extreme risk protection order.” It was approved by voter initiative in 2016.
Hopkins said extending such laws in other parts of the country – including Idaho – where they don’t exist was key, as early evidence suggests gun and domestic violence continue to rise even during the pandemic.
“The respite that we all thought we would get with COVID did not end up being true. In fact, the opposite happened,” Hopkins said. Reports of firearm deaths by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit tracking reports from 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources, increased from 39,530 in 2019 to 43,543 in 2020. That’s an increase of a little more than 10%.
Olson said he understood where the proposed restrictions were coming from, but believed consumers had a right to manufacture their own firearms as part of kits. Lange said he had concerns about the “red flag” policy and who would be involved in determining someone’s ability to own a gun should be restricted. The Biden administration said it would release a model policy, but cannot force states to pass their own legislation.
Despite the limitations of Biden’s actions, Heldring said, the fact that the White House is addressing what she sees as a need for reform is heartening.
“The truly major significance of today is that this came from the office of the president of the United States,” she said. “That hasn’t happened in a long, long time.”
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