Biden campaign pledge to Beto O’Rourke on leading gun control push appears to be an empty one

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President Biden’s election pledge to move quickly on gun control under the guidance of former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke has not materialized, and the White House has given few indications how it might address the hot-button topic.

Standing with O’Rourke last year after scoring his endorsement, Biden told him, “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me.” Asked this week whether Biden planned to fulfill his promise to have O’Rourke running point on gun issues, a senior White House aide demurred.

“He doesn’t have any official role,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a reporter.

The president’s pledge to move gun control measures forward immediately has also fallen off — for now, at least, as he focuses mostly on the COVID-19 pandemic, setting a course on China policy, and a handful of other issues.

“My first day of office, I’m going to send a bill to the Congress repealing the liability protection for gun manufacturers, closing the background check loopholes and waiting period,” then-candidate Biden said in February of last year.

On his first day in the White House, Biden signed a slew of executive orders on COVID-19, racial justice, and climate change, and he also began a rollback of some Trump actions. The president also introduced his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and sent a sweeping immigration bill to Congress.

The president has yet to sign any order or propose any legislation on gun control policy.

Biden “would love to see action” on this, Psaki said, declining to say on Thursday whether the White House believed it could move unilaterally to do this.

“We’ll work with groups about what action can be taken and what form it’ll take,” she said.

Firearm sales have soared over the past year, with a marked uptick in purchases among first-time buyers, women, and minorities.

The number of background checks tied to the sale of firearms was 21 million in 2020, the highest year on record, said Mark Oliva, the public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The previous record was 2016, with 15.7 million checks.

“It’s fairly telling that the White House spokesperson Jen Psaki has been asked, ‘Where is the president on gun control?,’ and she has been noncommittal,” said Oliva.

He noted Psaki has said Biden is committed to the issue “but did not tie it to any particular drive or proposed legislation.”

“I think they’re very aware that 2020 was a precipitous change,” Oliva said. “Twenty-one million people voted with their wallets on how they feel about ownership. And eight-and-a half million people did that for the first time.”

“When you start talking about a 58{e9fed0162f39797524a701c2fb4c79caad22222071251fcb6b336c28d0fc6c73} increase in African American gun ownership, and about 40{e9fed0162f39797524a701c2fb4c79caad22222071251fcb6b336c28d0fc6c73} among women, I think that’s part of what they’re seeing,” he said.

While O’Rourke’s endorsement gave the now-president a campaign boost, it drew scrutiny from gun rights advocates who branded the former Texas lawmaker as Biden’s “gun control czar.”

O’Rourke earned the moniker, in part, after declaring during a Democratic primary debate, “Hell, yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” He later said he was moved to endorse Biden after a shooting near his hometown of El Paso, Texas, left 22 people dead.

Before dropping out of the race, O’Rourke acknowledged that he would prefer to call on law enforcement to go door-to-door collecting weapons as part of a mandatory gun buyback program.

While Biden’s platform included a buyback for gun owners who don’t want to register their military-style weapons, his envisioned program would be voluntary.

Psaki’s comments on O’Rourke this week suggested he is on the outside of the new administration looking in.

“[Biden] still has admiration for the role that Beto O’Rourke played in elevating the issue of gun violence and the need for gun safety measures,” she said.

Gun control groups have grown impatient, telling the White House that now is the time for action.

Oliva said any action, if Biden chooses to move, is unlikely to be easy.

Gun control was not an issue in the congressional elections, where Republicans picked up seats in the House, and the Senate is split 50-50, and the filibuster is still alive, he said.

“When you start to look at the political reality of what it’s going to cost you, gun control isn’t becoming the issue that they want to put the banner on,” he added.

Democrats hold a narrow majority in the House and a bare majority in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie in the upper chamber.

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas introduced a gun control bill, HR 127, but Oliva believes it is unlikely to go anywhere.

“It has zero co-sponsors, which tells me that even her own party doesn’t take this bill seriously,” he said.

Sensing impatience from the gun control groups, the White House announced a meeting this week between top Biden aides and gun violence safety groups.

Top White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond hosted a discussion with activists. Psaki said the administration would be “sharing more” in weeks and months ahead about how to make communities safer.

O’Rourke, notably, was not mentioned.

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