Congress Needs to Follow Biden’s Lead on Guns


The litany is shamefully familiar, but needs repeating until lawmakers finally pay attention. More than 100 Americans die from gun violence each day — some in massacres that seize the national headlines, most in quieter tragedies that don’t. No other country in the developed world endures gun carnage on such a scale. This drumbeat of senseless misery and the persistent inattention of U.S. politicians made the intervention of the White House last week good to see. President Joe Biden called the problem what it is: a public-health crisis and a national disgrace.

That in itself is progress, and the measures Biden introduced by executive action are welcome — though no more than a start. Congress needs to follow the president’s lead and rouse itself.

Biden ordered the Justice Department to move against untraceable “ghost guns” — working firearms that can be assembled at home in less than an hour, using kits that are about as lightly regulated as Lego sets. These guns are a growing problem for law enforcement. In 2019, they accounted for one-third of all the guns seized in California by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Biden is right that such weapons should carry serial numbers and be subject to background checks. The ATF should follow through with comprehensive regulation that covers not only complete kits but also unfinished frames and receivers.

Biden also called on the Justice Department to publish an annual report on gun trafficking — the most recent such report is more than 20 years old — and to develop a model “red flag law” for states to adopt. Such measures, already implemented in 19 states, help keep weapons out of the hands of people who pose an acute risk to themselves or others. The president also announced new investments in community-based violence-prevention programs, and demanded tighter rules to restrict a gun modification reportedly used by the alleged shooter in the recent Colorado massacre.

More executive actions may be in the works. If so, good. But it will fall to Congress to do the larger part of what’s needed. The House has recently approved two bills that would close background-check loopholes, and both have bipartisan support. The Senate should pass them without delay. That would be another step forward.

More than 11,000 Americans have already died from gun violence this year, and some two-thirds of the country supports tighter gun laws. There’s no excuse for failing to act.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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