Gun control advocates see path for Joe Biden to enact restrictions

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Activists on both sides of the gun debate are steeling for a lobbying blitz early next year to prod presumed President-elect Joseph R. Biden, who campaigned aggressively on backing stricter controls.

Much of Mr. Biden’s agenda will depend on which party controls the Senate, but gun control advocates have outlined some steps Mr. Biden can take unilaterally.

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, is bracing for “all kinds of anti-gun rights executive orders,” he said. “Our concern is that under [Mr. Biden] the agencies are not going to be gun-rights friendly.”

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a leader of the push for stricter gun laws, joined other gun control advocates to outline a blueprint for what Mr. Biden can accomplish without Congress.

Ms. Giffords, who was gravely wounded by a gunman in a 2011 attack that killed six other people, was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for the swearing-in ceremony of her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly, Arizona Democrat.

Their ideas include enacting a rule to ban so-called “ghost” guns that can be crafted from 3-D printers and setting up an interagency task force on gun violence in concert with incoming Chief of Staff Ron Klain, the U.S. attorney general, and the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Robin Lloyd, managing director of the group Giffords, which is named after the congresswoman, said the task force is a top priority and that the group has been in touch with Mr. Biden’s transition team about the issue in general.

“Past administrations haven’t necessarily put the infrastructure in place to deal with gun violence as an issue that needs to be tackled comprehensively,” Ms. Lloyd said. “This would signal from the White House that they care about this issue.”

During the campaign, Mr. Biden championed expanding gun-purchase background checks and a ban and buyback program for certain military-style, semiautomatic firearms such as the AR-15.

One of Mr. Biden’s first moves after multiple news outlets declared him the winner in the presidential election was to tap Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general during the Obama administration, to be a co-chair of the transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board.

Dr. Murthy, a potential HHS secretary, had lobbied to treat gun-related violence as a public health threat during the Obama administration.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said Mr. Biden could direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to impose further restrictions on guns through the federal rule-making process.

“Just like what happened with bump stocks — that was the biggest circus and farce I’ve seen in a long time and I would expect that there could be far more circuses and farces to go with that,” Mr. Van Cleave said.

The Trump administration ruled that bump stocks were akin to machine guns when it moved to ban the devices, which attach to semiautomatic weapons to mimic the rate of machine-gun fire.

Bump stocks had gained notoriety after the gunman in the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting allegedly used them to rain fire down on concertgoers, killing more than 50 people.

Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda on guns and many other issues will hinge on Georgia’s two Senate runoff contests on Jan. 5, which will determine which party controls the upper chamber.

Republicans hold a 50-48 edge at the moment and, if Democrats win both Georgia races, presumed Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala D. Harris would be the tie-breaking vote.

Democrats will retain control of the House, albeit with a diminished majority.

Ms. Lloyd and Mr. Gottlieb both predicted that the Democrat-led House will likely try to push new gun legislation regardless.

“The House will lead. The White House will be very supportive of any legislative efforts and we’ll have to see what the Senate will do,” Ms. Lloyd said.

The Senate would likely have to abolish the legislative filibuster to get any gun bills to Mr. Biden’s desk. Moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia have indicated that they are unlikely to go along with such a plan.

“There’s going to be a couple tight votes,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “My concern is that some of the things that are anti-gun rights might get attached to other bills as amendments that other congressmen and senators want passed. And so gun rights will get sacrificed on the altar of them accomplishing some other mission.”

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