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Biden toughens legislation to stop the proliferation of ‘ghost weapons’ in the US | International

Biden shows off a pistol during the announcement of restrictions on phantom weapons at the White House on Monday.
Biden shows off a pistol during the announcement of restrictions on phantom weapons at the White House on Monday.JIM LO SCALZO (EFE)

A stray bullet from a ghost weapon – those without a serial number, assembled from items sometimes bought on the Internet – ended the life of a 16-year-old girl on her way home from high school last Friday. It happened in the Bronx, in New York, but the circulation of this type of weapon has increased in such a way on the streets of the United States that this Monday President Joe Biden announced measures to restrict access to them.

In the name of “common sense”, the president stressed in an act at the White House before a group of relatives of victims of firearms, a stricter regulation of this type of weapon is imposed, whose use has multiplied by ten in the last five years. In similar terms, Eric Adams, mayor of New York, has expressed himself, who is experiencing a wave of armed violence in the streets since the pandemic and which intensified especially last January. Adams and Biden had the opportunity to share their strategy to stop the bleeding later that month, when the US president visited the Big Apple to encourage an action plan against street insecurity.

Biden, who at all times has been in favor of the Second Amendment -which enshrines the right to bear arms-, nevertheless criticized the radicalism of the lobby weaponry, embodied in the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has described the attempt at regulation as “extreme”. “Is it extreme to protect the police? Protect our children?… It’s not extreme, it’s common sense,” said the president, who manipulated the pieces of one of these weapons before the cameras to demonstrate how easy it is to assemble. “Look, the idea that someone on a terrorist list could buy one of these weapons, is that extreme? No, it’s just common sense,” he concluded.

The response to citizen insecurity is on the way to becoming another asset – the main one is the fight against inflation – ahead of the mid-term elections next November. Republicans reproach Biden for his lack of firmness in cracking down on crime, although the president has been winking at law enforcement for weeks (the first is his explicit support for increased funding for the police, against the trend of the most radical wing of the Democratic Party, in favor of withdrawing funds).

The decree announced this Monday by Biden consists of subjecting firearms assembled from loose parts to the same requirements as conventional ones. Those who resell the component kits must check the background of potential buyers or include a serial number on the parts, including those that can be printed in 3D, an increasingly common technique in this type of arsenal. The new norm, however, does not foresee prohibiting kits of parts or increasing the penalties for criminals who use this type of weapon.

Between January 2016 and December 2021, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was only able to trace the owner of a ghost gun in 0.98% of cases, mostly in investigations into murders and attempted murders. According to the organization Gun Violence Archive, more than 11,700 people have died by firearm since the beginning of the year in the country, suicides included. In 2021 there were 45,000, which is why the White House describes this phenomenon as an epidemic.

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Last year law enforcement recovered just over 20,000 ghost weapons during crime investigations, according to ATF data, ten times more than in 2016.

Biden has reiterated his call for Congress to ban the sale of assault rifles or adopt a universal criminal and psychiatric background check system for potential buyers, but the powers of the Executive are limited apart from the use of decrees. Republicans oppose any regulation.

Coinciding with the announcement, the Biden Administration announced today the nomination of former prosecutor Steve Dettelbach as director of the ATF, “our federal agency charged with enforcing the law and implementing common sense legislation,” according to the House statement. White. Dettelbach, a supporter of banning assault weapons and therefore the target of criticism from the NRA, is the second candidate proposed by Biden for the position, after the rejection of the Republicans knocked out the first candidate in September. If confirmed by Congress, Dettelbach, who will appear at the White House alongside Biden, will be the agency’s first permanent director in seven years. There has only been one director confirmed by the Senate in the last 16 years.

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