Two months after 11 people were killed and nine others were injured in a mass shooting that has rocked the city of Monterey Park, California, President Joe Biden acknowledged the mostly Asian American community’s “unbreakable spirits” as he announced a sweeping executive order to “accelerate” his administration’s work on gun reform.
“This is a tight-knit community with intergenerational households and deep reverence and respect for its elders,” the president said in his remarks inside the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley on 14 March.
Through the Covid-19 pandemic, a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and a “horrific tragedy” as families celebrated the Lunar New Year, the community “has become a symbol of hope and resilience, pushing forward together, healing together,” he added.
The community raised funds for funeral costs and provided counseling and translation services for victims’ families, “proving that even with heavy hearts, we have unbreakable spirits,” the president said.
He closed his remarks urging Congress to renew the federal assault weapons ban and “eliminate gun manufacturer immunity from liability” as the number of mass shootings in the US within the first few months of 2023 already has reached more than 100.
“Let’s finish the job,” he said. “Ban assault rifles. Do it again. Do something. Do something big.”
While Congress remains deadlocked, the president’s executive order intends to “get as close to universal background checks as possible” without legislation.
The president will need members of Congress to pass any measures towards a so-called “universal” background check process for firearm sales and to renew a ban on so-called assault weapons ban that expired nearly 20 years ago. A newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives is unlikely to adopt any such measure.
Eighty-four per cent of voters, including 77 per cent of Republicans, support the idea, according to a 2021 poll from Morning Consult and Politico.
The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, known as the federal assault weapons ban, was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, with several failed attempts in Congress to renew the ban after a series of massacres involving high-powered rifles that were previously impacted by the law.
A study from Northwestern University found that the ban prevented 11 public mass shootings within the decade it was in effect. The study also estimates that keeping the ban in place until 2019 would have prevented 30 public shootings that killed 339 and injured 1,139 people.
Last year, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives narrowly voted to renew the ban, which stalled in an evenly divided Senate.
Last year, the president signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the “most significant gun safety law in almost 30 years,” according to Mr Biden.
The order announced on 14 March will “accelerate and intensify” the administration’s work to combat the proliferation of high-powered weapons and illegal guns “to save more lives, more quickly,” Mr Biden said.
The order directs US Attorney General Merrick Garland to address a background check loophole by clarifying the definition of “engaged in the business” of selling firearms in an effort towards better enforcement of the law Mr Biden signed last year.
That law requires anyone who sells guns for profit to be licensed and to perform background checks on prospective buyers. Clarifying the definition of someone who is “engaged” in that type of business in federal law is expected to expand the scope of that scrutiny.
“It’s just common sense,” Mr Biden said. “Check whether someone is a felony domestic abuser before they buy a gun.”
The order also directs members of the Biden cabinet and federal agencies to raise awareness of so-called “red flag” laws and measures that mandate safe storage.
The Federal Trade Commission also will be asked to submit a report that “analyzes and exposes how gun manufacturers aggressively market firearm to civilians, especially minors,” Mr Biden said.
Mr Biden’s order also aims to assist communities like Monterey Park recover in the aftermath of mass violence, including support for mental health services and financial assistance if a “family loses the sole breadwinner, or [if] a small business shuts down due to a … shooting investigation,” the president said.
On 23 January, a gunman fired into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio following an all-day Lunar New Year celebration at a nearby street.
The gunman, identified as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a standoff with police the following day.
It marked the deadliest mass shooting in Los Angeles County in recent history.
The president acknowledged Brandon Tsay, a 26-year-old man hailed as a hero for stopping the gunman. Mr Tsay, who was also a guest of Mr Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the recent State of the Union address, greeted Mr Biden when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday.
“Twenty minutes after the rampage at Star Ballroom, Brandon saw the same shooter walk into his family’s own dance studio just two miles away, pointing a gun at him,” Mr Biden said. “In an instant, he found the courage to act and wrestle a semiautomatic firearm away. Brandon saved lives. He protected the community.”
“The character of this community, the faith you have in this community, the pride – we see it in you across all of American life,” he added.
Two days after the massacre in Monterey Park, a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, California killed seven people.
There already have been more than 100 mass shootings in the US within the first three months of 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The organisation also found that the number of non-fatal shootings in the US has reached 6,000 within the first two and a half months of 2023. At least 3,549 people were killed by gunfire.
Gun reform advocacy groups have welcomed the executive order, which Brady hailed as “major progress” on the path towards universal background checks.
“While we ultimately can only achieve universal background checks through legislative action from Congress, President Biden’s announcement today gets us closer to that reality than any other President that has come before,” Brady president Kris Brown said in a statement.
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt and mass shooting in 2011, said in a statement through her advocacy group Giffords Law Center that “more must be done, but there’s no telling how many lives will be saved thanks to the meaningful actions announced today.”
Everytown for Gun Safety said that the president’s executive order will improve “community safety, hold the gun industry and rogue gun dealers in our communities accountable, and save lives.” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, called the order “lifesaving”.
Guns Down America also praised the order but urged the White House to create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention to “address the full scope of this crisis.”