With far-right domestic terror threats on the rise, experts are urging President Biden to go beyond his initial executive actions and ensure national security forces are better equipped to address homegrown threats.
Biden is coming under pressure to shift resources and boost intelligence sharing following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when law enforcement agencies were caught flat-footed by hundreds of violent protesters who stormed the building in support of former President Trump.
And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week warned that the U.S. may face heightened threats from “ideologically-motivated violent extremists.”
“All of this existed before Trump and it will certainly exist post-Trump. I think his role was really to accelerate and spur the ideology and the reaching of new folks,” said Margaret Huang, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups and extremism.
This Comes as Gun Sales Soar
Gun sales are on the rise across the U.S. with some experts predicting that gun reform policies championed by the Biden administration as well as the continuing uncertainty around the pandemic will keep gun sales high in 2021.
A record number of background checks were performed in the past year, according to data released by the FBI, reaching over 39.6 million background checks for firearms in 2020.
And while there’s no official data on exactly how many guns are sold in the U.S., background checks serve as a good proxy, according to Adam Winkler, Author of the book “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”
Experts attribute the demand to fear and uncertainty that was sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, protests over racial injustice from last summer and the 2020 presidential election.
The pandemic gripped the U.S. in March, leading businesses small and large to shut down, and leaving millions of people unemployed.
In the summer of 2020, nationwide protests erupted after the killing and shooting of several Black Americans including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake. The majority of the protests were peaceful, however, violence broke out in Minneapolis, Minn., as well as Kenosha, Wisc. among other cities.
Most recently, the presidential election caused months of spotty unrest with protestors across the country alleging that the election was “stolen” from former President Trump as a result of widespread voter fraud. Tensions came to an apex when a mob of Trump’s supporters breach Capitol security early in January.
Winkler said that people may look to guns for protection in uncertain times.
“People feel uncertain,” Winkler said. “And when you’re feeling uncertain, and you feel like you’re vulnerable, a firearm is one of the things that you might look to to provide you with protection.”
Official data from the FBI on the number of background checks conducted in January is expected in the beginning of February. However Mark Oliva, communications director for The National Shooting Sports Foundation, said it’s unlikely that demand will slow down in the near future.
“There’s every indication that it’s not going to slow down anytime soon,” Oliva said. “I think if you walk into any retailer right now, you’re going to see that gun case and that gun shelf is still pretty sparsely populated. That tells me that there’s still an unmet demand.”
Heading into 2021, America is getting acclimated to President Biden, who ran on a strong pro-gun reform platform.
Biden’s platform includes banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and requiring background checks for all gun sales. Gun safety advocacy groups have praised his platform as one of the toughest of any presidential candidate.
“Simply put, a Biden presidency is the gun lobby’s worst nightmare. But it’s a dream come true for anyone who cares about gun safety in America,” said Rob Wilcox, deputy director of policy and strategy at Everytown for Gun Safety.
Nico Bocour, governmental affairs director for gun reform advocacy group Giffords, predicted that America will see some gun reform measures within Biden’s first 100 days in office.
“We believe that, you know, within the first 100 days, there is going to be a background checks bill that you will see passed,” Bocour said. “There is widespread support for universal background checks, this is something that the public has shown tremendous amount of support for over the years that support is increasing.”
However, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, predicts that Biden’s platform will drive more people to buy guns simply out of fear.
“If suddenly they said well you’re not going to be able to buy any more cereal while everybody would run out and clean out all the cereal out of all the stores, [and] get theirs before it disappeared,” Van Cleave said.
“Same thing with guns, every time they threatened to take them away people decide it’s time to buy one, and those that have one decide maybe to buy another one.”
Winkler said this happens because for some Americans, having a gun is also a political act, rather than for self defense.
“Many in the gun community go out and buy guns as a form of protest,” Winkler said. “Having a gun is not just having a tool for self defense in America today. Many, many people who were part of that gun community, buy guns as a political act, at least in part.”