When Joe Biden ran for president, he made some bold proclamations about what kind of leader he would be in relation to guns.
One of the signature lines in his stump speech was that he was the only Democratic candidate to defeat the National Rifle Association, and he did so twice, referring to legislation he helped usher into law as a senator. He said on the campaign trail that “every day that we do nothing in response, it is an insult to the innumerable lives across this nation that have been forever shattered by gun violence.”
If Biden were only elected, he promised Democratic gun control activists, he would do more on this issue than any other president before him. Would it be nice if Democrats controlled Congress? Sure, but remember, Biden also promised that if he were elected Republicans would have an “epiphany” with Donald Trump out of Washington and would work with him on “common sense” solutions to many issues.
Until that bipartisan moment happened, Biden promised on the campaign trail to act quickly, including sending a bill to Congress on day one of his administration.
And that moment did happen, with Democrats sweeping the Senate races in Georgia and giving Democrats the majority in both houses — and giving Biden a golden opportunity to make a big impact on gun control.
Before Biden was sworn in, you would understand why these gun control advocates felt his election was a unique moment. There would be a Democratic president and Democratically controlled Congress for the first time in a decade, and the first time since years of mass shootings had turned public opinion around in support of gun control.
Furthermore, there was also a changing political climate: The NRA right now is in its weakest state in decades, facing bankruptcy and an investigation from the New York attorney general. In addition, the power of gun control groups is growing. Gun control groups have actually outspent gun rights groups in some recent elections. In other words, the political risk on the issue was shifting. Suddenly, it became politically risky for some politicians to not support additional gun control measures.
Given all of these factors and Biden’s day one campaign promise, it has been somewhat unnerving to activists that the president didn’t act sooner — especially after one particularly deadly week of mass shootings last month.
But now, nearly three months after being sworn into office, Biden has finally taken action. On Thursday, the president announced a series of executive orders on gun control and urged the Senate to pass several bills that have already cleared the House. He also urged state houses to pass red flag laws, which allow guns to be temporarily taken away from someone deemed dangerous or suicidal. Then again, these are just words, since state house actions are not in Biden’s control. (It is also not a new idea or particularly bold. Massachusetts passed such a law three years ago and even Trump backs the idea.)
Indeed, while he promised action on the campaign trail, Biden was basically uttering the same words that Barack Obama did when he was in office.
There was also one very subtle message during Biden’s appearance in front of the camera at the White House Rose Garden on Thursday during his event: while he may be sincere about his belief for more gun laws, he isn’t willing to end the filibuster to do it. Gun control activists not only called out Biden on this point, but also about the fact he has recently prioritized infrastructure over gun control.
So gun control is important to Biden — but not that important, even at a time when Democrats have more power than they’ve had in years to take action on the issue.
Biden’s executive actions mark some progress, but they aren’t permanent. Until Biden gets a bill he can sign into law, the next president can easily undo anything Biden just signed, just as Trump did with many of Obama’s initiatives.
It’s not nothing. But Biden promised more.