As the presidential election nears, interest groups on both sides of the gun control issue are examining the Biden campaign's stance, a platform which would represent a stark reversal from the Trump administration and potentially lead to historic changes in federal gun law if Democrats win the presidency, gain a Senate majority and hold the House of Representatives.
Brady United, one of the highest-profile gun control groups in the U.S., billed Biden and Harris as "the strongest gun safety ticket in history" while promoting a virtual event during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last week. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the most notable pro-Second Amendment group in the U.S., on its website called Biden-Harris the "most anti-gun presidential ticket in history."
So Brady and the NRA, which are fiercely opposed to each other, agree in a way.
"Joe Biden has a very unique history on the gun safety issue," Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords, a pro-gun control organization led by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., said. "Not only has he come up against the NRA twice and won, which was sort of the primary selling point for his candidacy in the primary and one of the reasons he is the nominee today. He's somebody who's sort of shaped his public service in response to tragedy. He has been there in a very personal level for so many victims and survivors of gun violence."
NRA spokesperson Lars Dalseide, on the other hand, warned that Biden "has promised to confiscate guns, destroy the American firearms industry, ban the manufacture and sale of popular semi-automatic firearms as well as standard capacity magazines, mandate that the only guns sold in America will be smart guns, and ban private firearm transfers.”
Biden's record on gun control, just like his time in Washington, D.C., is lengthy. As Ambler said, Biden backed two major gun control bills as a senator in the 1990s, an assault weapons ban and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. But it doesn't stop there. Biden, as vice president, forged a personal relationship with Giffords, who was shot in Arizona in 2011, and with the parent of one of the Parkland, Fla., shooting victims. He was also on the ground in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Conn.
As far as Harris' history, she's generally supported gun control legislation as a senator. She also signed a Supreme Court brief in the 2008 D.C. v. Heller case that argued "the Second Amendment provides only a militia-related right to bear arms" and "the Second Amendment does not apply to legislation passed by state or local governments."
And the Biden-Harris platform on guns, as outlined on their website, is an ambitious agenda that would add significant amounts of regulation and oversight on guns.
It seeks to repeal a law that prevents gun manufacturers from being sued for crimes people commit with guns; limit Americans to buying one firearm per month; ban the importation of "assault weapons" via executive order; require background checks for all gun sales; ban online gun sales; work to require that all guns sold in the U.S. are "smart guns" with RFID or biometric technology; incentivize states to tighten their gun laws and more.
Perhaps most notably, Biden and Harris would aim to institute a ban on the manufacture and sale of "assault weapons," which are loosely defined as guns that include features like a pistol grip or a threaded barrel, yet have the same semiautomatic rate of fire and fire the same ammunition as their non-assault weapon counterparts. The Biden-Harris platform would require existing assault weapons to be registered with the ATF under the National Firearms Act or be bought back by the government.
"I think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, based on all of their experience, really understand the nuances of this issue, understand that it's not just obviously getting these pieces of legislation passed that we've talked about, but it's also how ATF enforces the laws and making sure we have agencies with real teeth that will serve the interest of the public," Kris Brown, the president of Brady United, said.
"Re-electing President Trump ensures your right to protect yourself and your family while a Joe Biden presidency would leave Americans defenseless and at the mercy of criminals," Dalsdide said in a statement.
While Trump banned bump stocks in the wake of a mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people, he otherwise has voiced his support for the Second Amendment, often touting how "strong" candidates are on the right to bear arms while endorsing them on Twitter.
Notably, however, the president does not even mention guns or the Second Amendment in his second-term agenda, recently published by his campaign. There is no mention of the issue on Trump's "Promises Kept" website either.
There is, however, a "Gun Owners for Trump" coalition page on the president's campaign website that says "President Trump knows that every American has a God-given right to protect one's self and family. Though re-affirming support for this Administration, gun owners across the country will work to deliver a second term -- ensuring the appointment of even more constitutionalist conservative judges who will protect and defend our American liberties for generations to come."
Brady has vocally opposed Trump, particularly on the issue of judges, and endorsed Biden earlier this year. Brown last week said that she believes with Biden and Harris in the White House, those who favor gun control will be able to make significant progress in passing laws they've long promoted, particularly thanks to Biden's legislative skills.
"He knows how to get these things done, how to count the votes, and how to message around this issue," she said. "And certainly so does Sen. Harris. So I think the combination of the two, what I know they will do to focus on these issues, is critically important given the amount of work that we know we need to do in 2021 and beyond to actually meaningfully reduce gun violence in this country."
The NRA is again endorsing Trump, and Dalseide touts the president's first-term record as a reason why gun owners should vote to put him in office for four more years.
"President Trump has appointed two Supreme Court justices and more than 200 federal judges who view the Second Amendment as an individual right," he said. "He's eliminated countless onerous Obama-era regulations, signed legislation to improve hunters' access to federal land, and is working to end gun-free zones on 12 million acres of federal land."