Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on gun safety.
- The executive order aims to expand the use of background checks by directing Attorney General Merrick Garland to clarify the statutory definition of who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms — authority that the administration says has been granted to them by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which Biden signed into law last year. According to the administration, this measure will “move the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation” from Congress.
- The order also encourages the increased use of “red flag” laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, which permit a court to remove firearms from the possession of individuals who are deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have “red flag” laws in place.
- In addition, Biden is directing the Federal Trade Commission to prepare a report detailing the findings of an investigation into the gun manufacturing industry’s marketing strategies, including on how the industry appeals to minors and uses “military imagery.”
- Biden announced the order during a visit to Monterey Park, California, where a gunman killed 11 people during a Lunar New Year celebration in January. Biden said, “It’s just common sense to check whether someone is a felon and domestic abuser before they buy a gun.”
There are new developments in the January 6 Capitol security footage saga.
- Since becoming Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy has granted Tucker Carlson of Fox News exclusive access to over 40,000 hours of security footage from the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He aired on his television program segments of the footage, which paint a different picture than was portrayed by the House January 6 Committee and federal prosecutors. Carlson said that the rioters “were not insurrectionists. They were sightseers.” Carlson also highlighted video footage of Jacob Chansley (a.k.a. the “QAnon Shaman”), where Chansley entered the Senate chamber with no physical resistance from police officers. Chansley has pled guilty to a felony charge. Critics have denounced Carlson’s depiction of the attack on the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Carlson’s program “one of the most shameful hours we have ever seen on television,” and he said it was “an insult to every single police officer.”
- Releasing the footage also has implications for January 6 defendants. At the request of other GOP leaders, McCarthy has agreed to permit January 6 defendants to view the footage, too, in case the videos contain any exculpatory evidence. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, the chairman of the House Administration Committee’s subcommittee on oversight, said, “Everyone accused of a crime in this country deserves due process, which includes access to evidence which may be used to prove their guilt or innocence. It is our intention to make available any relevant videos and documents on a case-by-case basis as requested by attorneys representing defendants.”
- McCarthy’s decision has already impacted court proceedings. Last week, Dominic Pezzola, a January 6 defendant and member of the Proud Boys, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him, arguing that prosecutors withheld evidence from him — citing Carlson’s television program. For their part, prosecutors filed a brief in response, pointing out that all but ten seconds of the video footage had been released to all January 6 defendants, including Pezzola, in September 2021. Prosecutors argued that the clips “are not exculpatory of Pezzola or any other participant in the siege of the Capitol.”
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