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Biden's Executive Actions On Gun Control: How Effective Might They Be?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin today by addressing something President Biden has called a public health epidemic and an international embarrassment. I'm talking about gun violence. There have been dozens of incidents involving gun-related violence with multiple victims in just the past month.

At a Thursday press conference, the president outlined a number of actions he's taking to address it, reining in so-called ghost guns, which we will explain later, and directing the Justice Department to draft so-called red flag laws for states to model. Those would prevent someone from accessing a gun if they pose a danger to themselves or others. And the president urged Congress to enact legislation.

As we said, this announcement comes amid a spasm of mass shootings, some which have gotten national attention and some which have not, so we wanted to talk more about how effective these laws might be in actually addressing gun violence. For that, we've called Alain Stephens from The Trace. That's an independent, nonpartisan news organization that reports on guns and gun violence.

Alain Stephens, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

ALAIN STEPHENS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: As we said, President Biden announced a series of actions that the administration wants to take, and he called gun violence a public health epidemic. And you've been reporting on this for a while. Do you agree with that characterization?

STEPHENS: Yes, I do. I mean, gun violence is something - I think we pay a lot of attention to things like mass shootings. But gun violence in America, common neighborhood gun violence, is extremely common, and - as well as suicides and accidental shootings. And, yeah, we have seen a huge explosion as well with gun sales related to COVID, as well as another kind of surge of gun sales during the Obama administration due to fears of gun control. So if it seems like there's a lot more guns out there, that's perhaps because there probably is.

MARTIN: So President Biden says he wants to rein in so-called ghost guns. The first thing I'm going to ask you is, what are those?

STEPHENS: These weapons are essentially something that you could snap together within minutes. And because of this, this has appealed not only to, you know, hobbyists who want to build their own weapons and do so a lot easier, but it's also appealed to, you know, essentially, the criminal underworld who have, essentially, two really good reasons for doing this. One, you can get this weapon without having to go through background checks. If you have a criminal record or anything like that, none of that applies.

Two, every time you go through a background check through kind of conventional means to purchase a weapon, essentially, it creates a paper trail that is a investigative lead that if that weapon eventually shows up in a crime, federal agents and law enforcement can go back and find things like arms trafficking patterns or how this gun went from creation to crime. Without this paperwork, essentially, the gun is untraceable.

MARTIN: How are the sort of traditional Second Amendment advocates responding to President Biden's announcement - I mean, the groups that we're accustomed to hearing from who favor, you know, the most expansive view of gun rights?

STEPHENS: The first thing is, yeah, the NRA is like, hey, why are you punishing law-abiding gun owners - right? - for something that criminals do? And I think that that reaction has kind of been a classic reaction for a lot of the gun control groups - right? - who they are advocating on behalf of what they say are, you know, the legal gun owners.

The second thing is, is that they're also kind of responding on behalf of a lot of these parts kits, right? They manufacture these parts kits. It has been a lucrative thing, and they have interests as well. And a lot of those kind of manufacturers of parts kits are saying, well, this is allowed. What am I going to do in my business? They're kind of pushing more so the federal government to come up with some clarification.

But overall, as far as the firearms market, I expect - and kind of the lobbyists I expect not to have the same level of kind of defensiveness just because this is still overall kind of a very small thing compared to, say, assault weapons in general or, you know, semiautomatic weapons in general because it is still kind of a very small sliver of the market.

MARTIN: So I'm - now I'm going to ask you your opinion about this, as somebody who has covered this issue. So substantively, I'm interested in your take on how effective these steps will be in addressing the level of violence that I think most people consider unacceptable, even if they disagree about the best way to address it.

STEPHENS: As far as ghost guns, I do think there is something significant to be said there. There is a level of bleeding-edge firearms technology that has been challenging law enforcement here and for the most part has gone unaddressed. So I do think that will significantly tamp down some of the more serious arms trafficking patterns and stuff like that.

But as far as day-to-day gun crime, I mean, you're more likely to be shot in neighborhood community violence. And those things, as we look towards root causes, have more to do with economic inequality. They have more to do with failed law enforcement. They have more to do with these kind of root causes, right?

So if we're trying to deal with gun violence, I think, in a way that most Americans are going to see it, it's going to probably take something a little bit more significant than a lot of these kind of technical regulations that we're just starting with right now.

MARTIN: That was Alain Stephens, correspondent at the Trace. That's an independent, nonpartisan news organization that focuses on guns and gun violence. Alain Stephens, thanks so much for joining us.

STEPHENS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.