“TRUTH: Biden is coming for your guns,” reads a graphic in the post from the NRA’s lobbying arm on the president’s recent executive order on firearms. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry’s trade association, responded similarly, tweeting, “The Biden/Harris administration attack on the firearm industry continues.” The response was predictable — there’s a history of hostility between gun rights advocates and Joe Biden. But it wasn’t always this way.
In the years after he entered the Senate in 1973, Biden received positive ratings from the NRA and shied away from firearm laws reform. As late as 1986, his voting record was still more pro-gun than pro-gun control. What changed?
The evolution of American politics may hold the answer. The Democratic Party of the 1980s was very different from what we see today; in 1986, a bipartisan majority in Congress passed NRA-written legislation that gutted federal gun restrictions. Back then, the NRA backed both Democrats and the GOP, and the group’s political donations didn’t fall along partisan lines until the mid-1990s — right around the time that Biden ushered through Congress his historic crime bill, including a ban on semiautomatic weapons, and the Brady background check law. The future president’s policy shift was politically expedient: As Americans’ views on guns changed, so did his stance on how they should be regulated.
This week’s executive order signals that Biden isn’t done working on gun reform, even after Republicans took control of the House. The directive aims largely to enforce the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and encourage more background checks. It also includes a relatively new issue for Biden, a call for the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report on firearm marketing.
The president’s directive to the FTC is toothless — it’s a request, not a demand — but it reflects trending legislative efforts. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts recently introduced a bill that would require the agency to prohibit marketing guns to kids. And on the state level, lawsuits based on marketing statutes seem to be one of the few ways governments and private citizens can hold gunmakers and distributors accountable for violence. It’s how Sandy Hook families got a $73 million settlement from Remington, and the basis for suits by victims of the mass shootings in Highland Park and Uvalde.
Jon Straus, whose father was killed in the Highland Park mass shooting, joined a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson alleging that the gunmaker violated Illinois consumer fraud laws. “Their advertising seems to glorify this type of mentality of, ‘You’re under siege, the world is a battlefield and this is what you need to do to survive in it,’” he told WBEZ. “That’s grotesque to me. To promote that type of mentality is just wrong. And I don’t want my dad to have died for nothing.”
From Our Team
Biden’s Executive Order on Guns, Explained: Gun reform advocates praised the directive as bold and sweeping; pro-gun groups deemed it executive overreach. Both might be overselling.
Child Shootings Nearly Doubled During the Pandemic. Black Kids Bore the Brunt of the Violence: A new study found that racial disparities among young victims widened as overall gun violence spiked.
Philly’s Violence Prevention Plan Shows Promise. How Does It Work?: Research into a Philadelphia focused deterrence program found it could reduce shootings among participants by about half.
Craig Hunter Joins The Trace as Executive Editor: The veteran journalist will guide local coverage and audience work at the nonprofit newsroom dedicated to reporting on the gun violence crisis.
What to Know This Week
Mexico filed an appeal in its civil lawsuit against U.S. gunmakers arguing they knowingly facilitated deadly cartel violence across the Southern border, which an American federal judge dismissed in September. The new filing follows the high-profile, cartel-linked kidnapping of four Americans, two of whom were killed, in Tamaulipas. [Reuters]
A drag queen storytelling event in an Ohio park turned into an extremist melee. Armed members of white supremacist and other right-wing extremist groups shouted neo-Nazi and racist slurs at attendees, and witnesses said that one of the protesters pointed a gun at a crowd. [USA TODAY]
A former Smith & Wesson employee and two other men were charged with 123 criminal counts related to an attempt to create a pipeline for unregistered weapons from Massachusetts to New York. Some of the firearms sold included ghost guns and AR-15-style rifles. [The New York Times]
As federal gun safety proposals stall, police across the country are training for mass shootings — and pressuring lawmakers to enact meaningful reform. [CNN]
San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins’s plan to dismiss charges against the police officer who fatally shot Keita O’Neil wasn’t a surprise. Now, advocates and victims’ families wonder what it will take to hold law enforcement accountable. [BuzzFeed News/The San Francisco Standard]
Dozens of New Jersey social justice groups asked the Justice Department to investigate the Paterson Police Department over the death of violence intervention worker Najee Seabrooks, whom officers shot and killed in his home during an apparent mental health crisis. [Gothamist/NJ Spotlight News]
Hate crimes jumped almost 12 percent in 2021, despite the FBI’s earlier claim that they had dropped. The updated report includes data from thousands more police agencies, though the FBI acknowledged it’s still incomplete. [The Wall Street Journal]
Hatchet Speed, a self-described Proud Boy and gun enthusiast, got to keep his job as a Pentagon intelligence contractor for months after he joined the January 6 insurrection — even as he amassed a huge arsenal of weapons and planned to kidnap Jewish leaders. [The Intercept]
The Memphis Police Department’s brutal practices extend far beyond the Scorpion unit that dominated the news after the death of Tyre Nichols. Rank-and-file officers also broadly employ aggressive tactics, and Memphis Police arrest more people, mostly Black men, than other Tennessee departments. [The Marshall Project and The Institute for Public Service Reporting]
An Alabama school district is piloting a new safety system: wall-size, bulletproof white boards meant to protect students from active shooters and act as storm shelters. [The Alabama Education Lab]
Izaiah Carter, 16, was “one of [the] genuine good kids,” his relative Joyce Johnson told a local NBC affiliate. Carter was shot and killed near his Baltimore high school earlier this month. He was in his first year as a JROTC cadet, “an intelligent young man” who had pondered joining the military after graduation, the group’s instructor told The Baltimore Banner. He worked at an Italian restaurant downtown alongside his cousin and father, a chef; the owner described the teen as “kind of shy, kind of goofy,” and told CBS News Baltimore that everyone at the restaurant enjoyed having him around. “He was nice and humble,” Johnson said. “He would do anything he could for you.”
Police Killed His Son. Prosecutors Charged the Teen’s Friends With Murder: “It has been more than four years since a Phoenix police officer killed Jacob Harris, on January 11, 2019. The police department has since drawn a federal investigation into its use of deadly force. But Roland Harris’s fight for accountability has only left him with more questions: Why did police delete text messages from the night of his son’s shooting? Why are Jacob’s friends the only ones who have been held responsible for his death? How could anyone say his son’s killing was justified?” [The Appeal and the Phoenix New Times]