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Breaking down Biden’s plan to curb ‘blemish’ of gun violence in America

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled executive actions to curb gun violence, which he described as an "epidemic" and an "international embarrassment." Nearly 20,000 people died of gun violence last year, and another 24,000 died by suicide. Adam Winkler of the UCLA School of Law is an expert on gun policy and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Biden's measures.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Recent mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado have once again put gun reform in the national spotlight.

    Nearly 20,000 people died of gun violence last year, and another 24,000 from suicide.

    Today, President Biden unveiled steps he is taking to curb what he calls an epidemic and an international embarrassment.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as nation.

    Whether Congress acts or not, I'm going to use all the resources at my disposal as president to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there's much more that Congress can do to help that effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of the actions the president announced today include curbing so-called ghost guns, which are home-assembled firearms that often lack serial numbers and don't require background checks, tightening regulations on stabilizing braces, which can turn an AR-style semi automatic pistol into a rifle.

    The Justice Department will create a model for states to enact what are called red flag laws, which allows judges to seize firearms from people deemed dangerous. And the department will also release a report on firearms trafficking.

    In addition, President Biden nominated David Chipman, an adviser at the gun control group Giffords, to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    We turn to Adam Winkler of the UCLA School of Law, an expert on gun policy.

    Adam Winkler, thank you so much for being here.

    As we were saying, gun deaths off the charts, mass shootings happening every day. There was one in South Carolina yesterday, another one today in the state of Texas. How much difference can these steps President Biden is announcing make?

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, these steps are modest steps. They certainly don't tackle all of the major issues in America's gun violence problem.

    However, they're not insignificant steps. Take, for instance, the rule regulating ghost guns. These are do-it-yourself, homemade gun kit that have become increasingly popular and, with the advance of technology, increasingly easy to use. Anyone can buy one of these kits, even if they are prohibited from buying a firearm, and make their own gun.

    And we know that these guns are being used more frequently in crime. In California, for instance, one in three guns recovered from crime scenes are do-it-yourself guns without serial numbers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we also mentioned making it easier for states to enact these so-called red flag laws.

    And you were telling us investing in communities, trying to discourage gun violence can make a difference, too.

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, that's right. These red flag laws have become popular. And there's even some bipartisan support for red flag laws.

    They enable family members or law enforcement to temporarily take away someone's firearms when they're going through some kind of crisis that poses a threat to themselves or to others.

    And what the Biden administration is proposing to do is come up with some models, some guidelines, best practices, if you will, for how to do this right. And so that could be an effective tool that some family members who see another family member in crisis can use to prevent the next mass shooting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Adam Winkler, we know that this all reminds us that President Biden is not pushing legislation through Congress right now. It's a reminder of how difficult that is.

    How much influence does the gun rights lobby have, organizations like the NRA, right now with American lawmakers, vs. the influence of groups that want to see gun reform?

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, ironically, we're seeing both sides very strong in America.

    No doubt, the NRA is suffering from a major financial setback. They're in bankruptcy. They're being investigated and prosecuted by the New York attorney general. They have got major lawsuits on their hands. But the power of the NRA has always been about the power to influence the single-issue pro-gun voters there are out there, and they're still out there, regardless of what happens to the NRA.

    At the same time, the gun control movement in the last 10 years has been really reinvigorated. We see new organizations that have arisen, a lot more money being spent on gun safety reform, and it's become an issue that's really at the top of the Democratic Party agenda, some place it was not 10 years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But still uphill to try to get meaningful legislation passed?

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, right now, it's not just a gun issue.


  • Adam Winkler:

    Meaningful legislation in the Senate requires 60 votes, and it's hard to imagine 60 votes for almost any controversial issue these days.

    Certainly going to be difficult to get 60 votes on significant gun reform.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about the views of the American people? What do we know about that?

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, there's a huge difference between the views of the members of Congress and the views of the American people.

    We see things like universal background checks having over 80 percent support. The restriction on ghost guns, we see polls show about 75 percent support. And yet these laws can't get adopted through Congress itself, because, let's face it, the Republican Caucus is 100 percent opposed to gun control, and there's probably even some swing state Democrats who would vote against significant gun reform, too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We heard President Biden say today, if he had one thing he could get done, it would be the ability to sue gun manufacturers over gun deaths.

    Would that make a big difference?

  • Adam Winkler:

    It could make a difference in the long run.

    The gun makers were able to get a law passed by Congress back in the second Bush administration to restrict the ability of people to sue gun makers when their guns are used in crime. As a general matter, a gun maker is not going to be liable if a criminal misuses their firearms.

    But we have seen in other industries that these kinds of lawsuits can open the door and open the window to see how these gun makers are operating, how they're marketing their weapons. And it may be that they're marketing them in ways designed to appeal to people who have violent desire to use guns offensively.

    It would be a tough road, but it's certainly possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Adam Winkler with the UCLA School of Law, thank you so much.

  • Adam Winkler:

    Thank you.

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