Apr 8, 2021
Joe Biden, Merrick Garland Press Conference Transcript: Executive Orders on Gun Violence Prevention
President Joe Biden, VP Kamala Harris, and AG Merrick Garland gave remarks about taking action on gun reform and preventing gun violence on April 8, 2021. Biden issued 6 executive orders addressing gun violence, particularly “ghost guns” and red flag laws. Read the transcript of the press conference speech here.
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Vice President Kamala Harris: (01:31)
Good morning. Over the course of my career, I have seen gun violence up close. I’ve looked at autopsy photographs. I’ve seen with my own two eyes what a bullet can do to the human body. I’ve held hands with the hands of parents who have lost a child, I have seen children who are traumatized by the loss of a parent or sibling, and I have fought my entire career to end this violence and to pass reasonable gun safety laws.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (02:07)
Time and again, as progress has stalled, we have all asked, “What are we waiting for?,” because we aren’t waiting for a tragedy. I know that. We’ve had more tragedy than we can bear. We aren’t waiting for solutions, either, because the solutions exist. They already exist. People on both sides of the aisle want action. Real people on both sides of the aisle want action. So all that is left is the will and the courage to act, and President Joe Biden has the will and the courage to act. As a United States senator, Joe Biden took on the gun lobby not once but twice, and he won. In 1993, he worked to pass the Brady Handgun Violation Prevention Act. This law established a background check system and has kept more than three million firearms out of the hands of dangerous people. A year later, he worked to pass another law to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines for 10 years. As Vice President, Joe Biden led the Obama-Biden administration’s efforts to reduce gun violence.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (03:49)
In fact, we were just reminiscing that he and I talked back then about his work, because I was Attorney General at the time of California, and his work resulted in nearly two dozen actions, from narrowing the gun show loophole to expanding funding for mental health services. As you will hear in a moment, President Joe Biden is a leader with great will, great determination, and even greater empathy. He has seen the grief of all of those who have lost a loved one to gun violence. It is for them, for all of us that he will never, ever give up on this fight. It is now my great honor to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden: (04:58)
Thank you, Kamala, Madam Vice President. Thank you very much. We’re joined today by the attorney general, Eric Carlin, who I’ve asked to prioritize gun violence. It’s also good to see the Second Gentleman, who is here, and it’s good to see the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who cares deeply about this issue as well. I look out there and I see so many members of Congress who’ve led in this fight, so many of you who’ve never given up. So many of you are absolutely determined, as [inaudible 00:05:37], are to get this done. We’ve got a long way to go. It seems like we always have a long way to go. But also, today we’re taking steps to confront not just the gun crisis, but what is actually a public health crisis.
President Joe Biden: (05:51)
Nothing, nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment. They’re phony arguments suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake for what we’re talking about. But no amendment, no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Recall the freedom of speech. From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons. So the idea is just bizarre to suggest that some of the things we’re recommending are contrary to the Constitution. Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. Let me say it again. Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment. We saw it again last night as I was coming to the Oval Office. I got the word that in South Carolina, a physician with his wife, two grandchildren, and a person working at his house was gunned down, all five. So many people, so many of the people sitting here today know that well, unfortunately. They know what it’s like when the seconds change your life forever.
President Joe Biden: (07:18)
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to meet in awful circumstances many of you, many of you who’ve lost your children, your husband, your wives. They know what it’s like to bury a piece of their soul deep in the earth. We understand that. Mark and Jackie, I want to tell you it’s always good to see you, but not under these circumstances. I want to say before I introduce the rest of the folks is what a lot of people have not been through what they’ve been through don’t understand it takes a lot of courage to come to an event like this. They’re absolutely, absolutely determined to make change.
President Joe Biden: (08:06)
But Mark and Jackie, whose son, Daniel, was a first grader in Sandy Hook Elementary School, Daniel loved sports, loves outdoor sports, getting muddy. I see my friend, Fred Gutenberg. His daughter, Jamie, was a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She was an accomplished dancer. I see Brandon Wolfe, the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, he survived, but his two best friends died. Greg Jackson, who was just walking down the street when he was caught in crossfire of a gunfight. Of course, I see a close friend of Jill’s and mine, Congresswoman Gabby Gifford, who is here, who was speaking with her constituents in front of a grocery store in our state when she was shot and a member of her staff was killed.
President Joe Biden: (09:06)
They’re here, and their pain is immense. What a lot of you, hopefully many of you don’t know is if you’ve gone through a trauma, no matter how much you work to make sure others don’t go through it, every time you show up at an event like this, it brings back when you got that phone call. It brings back the immediacy of what happened at that moment. So I genuinely mean it. Thank you. Thank you for having the courage, the courage to be here, the courage to continue this fight. Senator Blumenthal understands it. A lot of the folks out here understand it. But it takes real courage. So thank you. To turn pain into purpose and demand that we take the action that gives meaning to the word enough, enough, enough, enough, because what they want you to know-
President Joe Biden: (10:03)
… Enough. Enough. Because what they want you to know, what they want you to do is not just listen. Every day in this country, 316 people are shot. Every single day. 106 of them die every day. Our flag was still flying at half staff for the victims of the horrific murder of eight primarily Asian-American people in Georgia when 10 more lives were taken in a mass murder in Colorado. You probably didn’t hear it, but between those two incidents, less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings. 850 that took the lives of more than 250 people and left 500 injured. This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop.
President Joe Biden: (11:03)
I’m here to talk about two things. First, the steps we’re going to take immediately. Second, the action that needs to be taken going forward to curb the epidemic of gun violence. I asked the attorney general and his team to identify for me, immediate concrete actions I could take now without having to go through the Congress.
President Joe Biden: (11:27)
Today, I’m announcing several initial steps my administration is taking to curb this epidemic of gun violence. Much more need to be done, but the first, want to reign in the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns.” These are guns that are homemade, built from a kit that include directions on how to finish the firearm. You can go buy the kit. They have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced. And the buyers aren’t required to pass a background check to buy the kit to make the gun. Consequently, anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and as little as 30 minutes put together a weapon. I want to see these kits treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act, which is going to require that the seller and manufacturers make the key parts with serial numbers and run background checks on the buyers when they walk in to buy that package.
President Joe Biden: (12:34)
The second action we’re going to take, back in the year 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms released a report on its investigations into firearms trafficking in America. The report was of pivotal value. It was an important tool for policy makers when I was in the Senate and beyond, at all levels, to stop firearms from being illegally diverted into dangerous hands. Today, with online sales and ghost guns, times and trafficking methods have changed; and we have to adjust. We also have to ask the Justice Department to release a new annual report. This report will better help policymakers address firearms trafficking as it is today, not what it was yesterday.
President Joe Biden: (13:24)
The third change we want to treat pistols modified with stabilizing braces with the seriousness they deserve. Stabilize the embrace [inaudible 00:13:35] essentially makes that pistol a hell of a lot more accurate and a mini rifle. As a result, it’s more lethal, effectively turning it into a short-barreled rifle. That’s what the alleged shooter in Boulder appears to have done.
President Joe Biden: (13:50)
I want to be clear that these modifications to firearms that make them more lethal should be subject to the National Firearms Act. The National Firearms Act requires that a potential owner pay a $200 fee and submit their name and other identifying information to the Justice Department, just as they would if they went out and purchased a silencer for a gun.
President Joe Biden: (14:14)
Fourthly, during my campaign for president, I wanted to make it easier for states to adopt extreme risk protection order laws. They’re also called “Red Flag Laws,” which everybody in this lawn knows, but many people listening do not know. These laws allow police or a family member to petition a court in their jurisdiction and say, “I want you to temporarily move from the following people any firearm they may possess because they’re a danger and a crisis. They’re presenting a danger to themselves and to others.” And the court makes a ruling.
President Joe Biden: (14:54)
To put this in perspective more than half of all suicides, for example, involve the use of a firearm. But when a gun is not available an attempt at suicide, the death rate drops precipitously. States that have Red Flag Laws have seen the reduction in the number of suicides in their states.
President Joe Biden: (15:18)
Every single month, by the way, an average of 53 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. I wrote the Violence Against Women Act. It’s been a constant struggle to keep it moving. We know Red Flag Laws can have significant effect in protecting women from domestic violence, and we know Red Flag Laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans.
President Joe Biden: (15:49)
I’m proud, excuse the point of personal privilege, as we used to say in the Senate, I’m proud that the Red Flag Law in my home state of Delaware was named after my son, Attorney General Beau Biden, our son, excuse me, Jill, who proposed that legislation back in 2013. I want to see a national Red Flag Law and legislation to incentivize states to enact their own Red Flag Laws.
President Joe Biden: (16:15)
Today, I asked the Justice Department to publish a model Red Flag legislation, so States can start crafting their own laws right now. Just like with background checks, the vast majority of Americans support these extreme risk protection order laws, and it’s time to put these laws on the books and protect even more people. The attorney general will have more to say about this in a moment.
President Joe Biden: (16:41)
Additionally, we recognize that cities across the country are experiencing historic spikes in homicides, as the law enforcement can tell you. The violence is hitting Black and Brown communities the hardest. Homicide is the leading cause of death of Black boys and men ages 15 to 34. The leading cause of death. But there are proven strategies that reduce gun violence in urban communities, and there are programs that have demonstrated they can reduce homicides by up to 60% in urban communities. But many of these have been badly underfunded or not funded at all of late.
President Joe Biden: (17:22)
Gun violence in America, for those you think of this from an economic standpoint, listening to me, estimated to cost the nation 280 billion. Let me say it again, $280 billion a year. You say, “How could that be, Joe?” Hospital bills, physical therapy, trauma counseling, legal fees, prison costs, and the loss of productivity, not to mention the psychological damage done to the children who live in these cities, watching this happen, knowing someone it happened to. This gun violence in our neighborhood is having a profound impact on our children, even if they’re never involved in pulling the trigger or being the victim on the other side of a trigger. For a fraction of the cost of gun violence, we can save lives, create safe and healthy communities and build economies that work for all of us and save billions of American dollars in the meantime. Much of it, as Senator Cicilline knows, is taxpayer money.
President Joe Biden: (18:43)
Finally, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the key agency enforcing gun laws, hasn’t had a permanent director since 2015. Today, I’m proud to nominate David Chipman to serve as a director of the AFT. David knows the AFT well. He served there for 25 years. Vice President Harris and I believe he’s the right person at this moment for this important agency.
President Joe Biden: (19:15)
I’ve said before my job, the job of any president, is to protect the American people. 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 the Congress can do to help that effort. And they can do it right now. They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers, time for some action. I believe the Senate should immediately pass three house passed bills to close loopholes that allow gun purchasers to bypass-
President Joe Biden: (20:03)
That allow gun purchasers to bypass the background checks. The vast majority of the American people, including gun owners, believe there should be background checks before you purchase a gun. As it was noted earlier, hundreds of thousands of people have been denied guns because of the background checks. What more would have happened? These bills one, require background checks for anyone purchasing a gun at a gun show or an online sale.
President Joe Biden: (20:36)
Most people don’t know, you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want and no background check. Second thing is to close what’s known as the Charleston loophole. Like people here, I spent time down at that church in Charleston. What happened is someone was allowed to get the gun used to kill those innocent people at a church service. If the FBI didn’t complete the background check within three days, there’s a process. If it wasn’t done in three days, according to the Charleston loophole, you get to buy the gun. They bought the gun and killed a hell of a lot of innocent people who invited him to pray with them. And three, reauthorize, the violence against women act, which would so-call close the boyfriend and stalking loopholes to keep guns out of the hands of people found by a court to be an abuser and continuing threat.
President Joe Biden: (21:53)
I held over a thousand hours of hearings to pass the violence against women act and one thing came through. If in fact, a stay away order, an order preventing the abuser from coming in a certain distance of the person he has abused, or she has abused and now the idea that they can own a weapon when they have a court order saying they are an abuser. These are some of the best tools we have right now to prevent gun violence and save lives. But all of these bills, they had support of both Democrats and Republicans in the House and universal background checks are supported by the vast majority of American people and I might add the vast majority of responsible gun owners.
President Joe Biden: (22:53)
So let me be clear, this is not a partisan issue among the American people. This is a view by the American people as an American issue, and I’m willing to work with anyone to get these done. And it’s long past time that we act. Now, I know this has been a hobby horse of mine for a long time. Got it done once, we should also ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country.
President Joe Biden: (23:25)
For that 10 years we had it done, the number of mass shootings actually went down. Even law enforcement officials have told me and told other champions of this legislation they sometimes feel outgunned by assault weapons with large capacity magazines. There’s no reason someone needs a weapon of war with 100 rounds, 100 bullets that can be fired from that weapon. Nobody needs that. Nobody needs that. We got that done when I was a United States senator, wasn’t easy going up against the gun lobby, but it saved lives. And we should also eliminate gun manufacturers from the immunity they receive from the Congress.
President Joe Biden: (24:18)
You realize, again, the people here because they’re so knowledgeable out here in the Rose Garden, but one piece that people don’t realize, the only industry in America, a billion dollar industry, that can’t be sued, has exempt from being sued, are gun manufacturers. Imagine how different it would be had that same exemption been available to tobacco companies, who knew and lied about the danger they were causing, the cancer caused and the like. Imagine where we’d be. But this is the only outfit that is exempt from being sued. If I get one thing on my list, the Lord came down and said, “Joe, you get one of these.” Give me that one, because I tell you what, there would be a come to the Lord moment these folks would have real quickly. But they’re not, they’re not, they’re exempt.
President Joe Biden: (25:25)
I know that the conversation about guns in this country can be a difficult one, but even here, there’s much more common ground than anyone would believe. There’s much more common ground. Everything that’s being proposed today is totally consistent with the second amendment. And there’s a wide consensus behind the need to take action. I know that when overwhelming majority of Americans want to see something change that would affect their lives and it still doesn’t change, it can be demoralizing to our fellow citizens. It can feel like our entire political process is broken. I know it’s painful and frustrating that we haven’t made the progress that we’d hoped for, but it took five years to get Brady Bill passed and it took even more years to work to pass the assault weapons ban and it saved lives. No matter how long it takes, we’re going to get these passed. We’re not going to give up.
President Joe Biden: (26:25)
We have an opportunity to fulfill the first responsibility of government, to keep our people safe. And in the process, we can show the world and show ourselves that democracy works and we can come together and get big things done. And I look around and see such brave survivors sitting out here in the Rose Garden, public servants who devoted their lives to dealing with this, advocates who feel strongly and are pushing every day to make the rational changes and courageous parents and family members. I know that progress, even in this most difficult of issues, is possible.
President Joe Biden: (27:04)
So folks, this is just the start. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I know almost every one of you sitting in the garden here, none of you have ever given up, we’re not going to give up now. The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation. Let me say to all of you, God bless you but most importantly, the memory of all many of you have lost in the senseless gun violence. And now I’d like to hand it over to the attorney general for him to speak and make some comments. And I hope I get a chance to see some of you after this is over. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Merrick Garland: (28:05)
Thank you, Mr. President and Madam Vice President.
Merrick Garland: (28:08)
We stand here today, not at a moment of tragedy, but in the midst of an enduring tragedy. So far this year, guns have taken the lives of an estimated 11,000 of our neighbors, friends and fellow Americans. As the president explained, gun deaths in our country are occurring at a staggering pace, on the order of about a hundred Americans killed every day with hundreds more wounded. I am under no illusions about how hard it is to solve the problem of gun violence and I know that the Department of Justice alone cannot solve the problem. It is a problem that must all work on together in the collective effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and save lives. But there is work for the department to do, and we intend to do it.
Merrick Garland: (29:09)
Today, the Department of Justice is announcing several steps that we will take to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and reduce the risk of gun violence. First, we will ensure that we understand and measure the problem of criminal gun trafficking in a data driven way. Over 20 years ago, ATF undertook a gun trafficking study. It then issued a report that provided information necessary to better understand and to combat criminal trafficking networks. No such study has been conducted since that time. Accordingly, I have directed ATF to begin work on an updated study of criminal gun trafficking, one that will take into account the fact that modern guns are not simply cast or forged anymore, but-
Merrick Garland: (30:03)
Modern guns are not simply cast or forged anymore, but can also be made of plastic, printed on a 3D printer or sold in self-assembly kits. We will evaluate how some of our best tools, including the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and the National Tracing Center are keeping up with the times. And we will analyze our criminal cases and investigations to determine what they can show us about modern gun trafficking patterns.
Merrick Garland: (30:33)
We expect that the lessons from this study will help agents, prosecutors and policymakers tackle modern criminal gun trafficking enterprises. Second, we’ll close a regulatory loophole that has contributed to the proliferation of the so-called ghost guns. Federal law requires that manufacturers mark all firearms with serial numbers so they can be traced if they are used in crimes.
Merrick Garland: (31:03)
It also requires licensed firearms dealers to run background checks to ensure the individuals who are barred by law from purchasing firearms cannot do so. The emergence of ghost guns threatens both of these important law enforcement objectives. Currently individuals can buy kits that contain all or almost all of the parts they need to assemble a gun. They can put a working weapon together in as little as 30 minutes.
Merrick Garland: (31:34)
The Kits are applicable called buy, build shoot kits. Yet because of a gap in the ATF regulations, these kits may not be considered firearms. As a result, they’re being made and sold without serial numbers and sold without background checks. Within 30 days, ATF will issue a proposed rule to plug that gap and to enable law enforcement to trace crime guns, and to keep guns from being sold to those who cannot lawfully possessed them.
Merrick Garland: (32:11)
Third, we will make clear that statutory restrictions on short barreled rifles apply when certain stabilizing braces are added to high-powered pistols. Federal law requires the taxation and registration of all short barreled rifles. It does so because these weapons are powerful yet easily concealable.
Merrick Garland: (32:35)
Currently however, some manufacturers market and some individuals purchase certain kinds of stabilizing braces that when attached to a pistol effectively convert it into a short-barreled rifle, a weapon that is in the words of the statute, “intended to be fired from the shoulder”. Such braces make high powered pistols more stable and accurate while still concealable.
Merrick Garland: (33:03)
Within 60 days, ATF will issue a proposed rule that will make clear that when a device marketed as a stabilizing device effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, it is subject to the requirements of the statute. Fourth, we will publish model red flag legislation for states. Red flag laws, as the president has explained, allow family members or law enforcement to petition for court orders that temporarily bar people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or to others.
Merrick Garland: (33:44)
19 states and the district of Columbia have already made this important step. Within 60 days, the justice department will publish model legislation that will make it easier for states that want to craft laws permitting such emergency risk orders to do so. Fifth, we will empower our communities to combat and prevent gun violence. We all recognize that although law enforcement plays an important role, gun violence is not a problem that law enforcement alone can solve.
Merrick Garland: (34:29)
Communities are an essential partner, an asset and a source of resources and ideas. Those who are closest to the problem are a critical part of solving the problem. To that end, the justice department will make available over $1 billion in funding through over a dozen grant programs that can be used to support evidence-based intervention strategies for reducing gun violence. Such strategies include, but are not limited to street outreach, violence, interrupters, and hospital-based violence intervention services.
Merrick Garland: (35:19)
I have directed all of our grant making components to make community violence intervention and prevention a priority. Finally, none of these measures or any of the other critical law enforcement work the department does with respect to illegal guns can be effectively carried out without strong leadership. That is why the president has nominated David Chipman to be the next ATF director.
Merrick Garland: (35:52)
Mr. Chipman has come up through the ranks, spending 25 in the trenches fighting illegal gun trafficking and criminal enterprises. His extensive experience as an ATF agent will prove invaluable and I look forward to working with him. Looking out at many of you is not only a reminder of the tragic toll that gun violence takes on our communities, but also of the resilience and determination that it will take to make our communities safer. The Department of Justice shares your commitment and that of the president and of the vice-president to stopping the plague of gun violence and saving the lives of those we love. Thank you.
President Joe Biden: (37:00)
We weren’t supposed to do that. I like to see all of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Let’s get to work.
Speaker 1: (37:29)
Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats until the president and stage participants have departed.