New measures include plans for the Justice Department to crack down on self-assembled "ghost guns," and make "stabilising braces" subject to registration under the National Firearms Act.
President Joe Biden and his Attorney General Merrick Garland have announced limited measures to tackle gun violence in the United States, in what the White House described as a first step to curb mass shootings, community bloodshed and suicides.
The new measures, announced on Thursday, include plans for the Justice Department to crack down on self-assembled "ghost guns," and make "stabilising braces" – which effectively turn pistols into rifles – subject to registration under the National Firearms Act.
Biden said he will ask the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to release an annual report on firearms trafficking in the United States, and make it easier for states to adopt "Red Flag" laws that flag at-risk individuals who own guns.
Biden also outlined more ambitious goals that he needs the support of Congress to accomplish, including reintroducing a ban on assault weapons and passing a nationwide Red Flag law.
"Enough prayers," Biden said. "Time for some action."
The solutions to curb gun violence already exist. All that is left is the will and the courage to act. And President Joe Biden has the will and the courage to act.— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) April 8, 2021
'Public health crisis'
"Today we're taking steps to confront not just the gun crisis, but what is actually a public health crisis," Biden said, speaking in the Rose Garden.
He noted another mass shooting in South Carolina this week.
"This is an epidemic, for God's sake, and it has to stop," Biden said.
Family members whose children were killed at the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school massacre in 2012 and the shooting at Marj ory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 attended the hearing, and Biden thanked them for attending, saying he understood it would remind them of the awful days when they got the calls.
He assured them, “We’re absolutely determined to make change."
'More tragedy than we can bear'
Biden, a Democrat who has a long history of advocating for gun restrictions, has come under pressure to step up action after recent mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia.
Biden announced the measures alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Merrick Garland, who Biden said would prioritise gun violence as head of the Department of Justice.
"We've had more tragedy than we can bear," Harris said. "People on both sides of the aisle want action .... So all that is left is the will and the courage to act."
Revamp in approach to cases, investigations
Garland said the Justice Department will be rethinking the way that it analyses criminal cases and investigations to try learn more about modern gun-trafficking patterns.
"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," Garland said.
He also said Congress should pass the Violence Against Women Act, eliminate legal exemptions for gun manufacturers and ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“This is not a partisan issue among the American people," Biden insisted.
Second Amendment debate
Gun control is a divisive issue in the United States, which has experienced a significant number of deadly mass shootings at schools and other public venues for decades.
The US Constitution's Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, and state attempts to limit who can buy guns or how they can carry them have been challenged in court by pro-gun lobby groups.
"I know that the conversation about guns in this country can be a difficult one. But even here, there is much more common ground than anyone would believe," Biden said.
While Biden asserted that he's “willing to work with anyone to get it done,” gun control measures face slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans remain near-unified against most proposals.
Nearly 40,000 Americans die each year from shootings.