Gun reform advocates, frustrated that President Joe Biden has put on the back burner his campaign vow to finally address America’s gun violence epidemic, are calling for the creation of a new top-level office to spearhead the issue. That would be an appropriately high-profile approach to a national crisis that has been allowed to fester too long. Decades too long, in fact.
America’s political dysfunction is perhaps nowhere more evident than on guns. Despite broad public support (even among gun owners) for basic reforms like universal background checks for gun purchases and restrictions on military-style firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines, Congress has been deadlocked for years.
That’s in large part due to the National Rifle Association — not just the campaign money it wields, but its dark success at whipping up the noisy minority of Americans who stubbornly oppose any gun restrictions whatsoever. Too many red-state politicians are more terrified of that segment of their base than they are concerned about the gun violence terrorizing the rest of their constituents, and to the country itself.
That dysfunction is the reason no director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has received Senate confirmation since 2015: The ATF enforces what meager federal gun laws there are on the books, so the gun lobby endlessly finds reasons to oppose any nominee who falls short of gun-fanatic standards.
Biden nominee David Chipman is the latest to languish, despite a long and impressive career within the agency, because he’s had the gall to speak frankly in the past about the need for reasonable firearms restrictions. With every Republican opposing him, Chipman needs every Democrat’s support, and a few fence-sitters aren’t there. So the nation’s lead agency for addressing gun issues remains rudderless.
In a letter obtained by Politico, a coalition of gun safety groups took Biden to task for, among other things, standing by the filibuster, the archaic Senate rule that has helped the GOP hold America hostage on guns even when it’s in the minority.
The letter makes a series of recommendations, most notably calling for creation of an Office of Gun Violence Prevention to act as the staging point for federal gun-reform efforts. Since the head of such an office wouldn’t be subject to Senate confirmation (as the ATF director wasn’t before 2006), the White House would be able to avoid letting this urgent issue become mired in partisan procedural games.
The activists also seek a comprehensive strategy for getting gun safety legislation approved — including “eliminating the filibuster if necessary” — and making better use of the presidential bully pulpit to rally the majority of Americans who understand that controlling gun violence means controlling guns. To say Biden has other issues on his plate would be an epic understatement, but this one deserves a return to front-burner status.
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