President Joe Biden today gave a speech marking the signing of a gun safety bill passed in the aftermath of recent mass shootings.
But even as lawmakers, gun reform advocates and victims’ families gathered on the South Law ceremony said that the new legislation would be meaningful, some also said it falls short of laws that were in place in the past, like an assault weapons ban, or even a ban on purchases of those firearms for those under 21. And some said it more loudly than others.
Biden’s speech was interrupted by Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the 2018 Parkland, FL shootings. Oliver could be heard shouting, “I have been trying to tell you this, for years,” and Biden then said, “Let me finish my comments talk. Let me talk. Let him talk. No one. OK?” Oliver, who founded the group Change the Ref and is calling for much greater measures, was then escorted away.
In his speech, Biden called for an assault weapons ban and universal background checks. But those measures are out of reach in Congress because of opposition from Republicans.
Biden did sign the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last month. The law is the result of negotiations following the shooting massacres in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY, expands background checks for those 18 to 21, give incentives to states to pass “red flag” laws, and expand a federal law that bans domestic abusers from acquiring guns. The legislation also provides funds for school safety and for mental health.
President Biden to protester: "Sit down. You'll hear what I have to say." pic.twitter.com/FZvMZoLam5
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 11, 2022
The ceremony at the White House was held almost a week to the moment after a shooter opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, IL, killing seven people. Biden noted the presence of the mayor of Highland Park and the state’s governor, J.B. Pritzker.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in Parkland, meets Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering following WH ceremony. Guttenberg told them he was sorry another community has joined others struck by gun violence. pic.twitter.com/jE7WBhe2Gy
— Ted Johnson (@tedstew) July 11, 2022
“Can this really be the United States of America? How has it come to this?” Biden said in his speech. “We all know some of the reasons — the gun lobby, the special interest money, the rise of hyper-partisan tribal politics in the country.”
Biden said that he is a supporter of the Second Amendment, and owns four guns, but that the right to bear arms is not absolute.
“The right to bears arms is not a right that dominates all others,” he said.
Although he was present at the event, Oliver has been critical of notions that the White House ceremony would be some kind of a celebration. He later told CBS News that while he welcomed the new legislation, “I am the father of a victim and I know, and can assure you, that this is far from being enough.” He said that he wants the White House to open an office on gun violent prevention.
The event drew hundreds of guests to the South Lawn, and at the end of the president’s speech, the Marine Band played Stars and Stripes Forever. But the presentation itself still was shorter and somewhat more muted that past ceremonies marking milestones for the administration, including passage of the infrastructure law last year and the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
As Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris noted, the legislation is the first significant gun safety measure passed by Congress in almost 30 years, the last being the 1994 ban on assault weapons that was allowed to expire a decade later. Even after horrific massacres, like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, legislation stalled out in the Senate. After the Uvalde shootings, in which 19 elementary school students and two teachers were killed, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) helped lead bipartisan talks for legislation, leading to the latest measures. The bill was opposed by the NRA, but ended up passing the House 234-193, and, after overcoming a filibuster threat, passed the Senate 65-33.
Mathew Littman, executive director of the gun safety group 97 Percent, said that the political reality is that “if gun owners aren’t on board, you have a very hard time getting something passed.” In numerous polls, a majority of Americans support a ban on assault weapons. But Littman cited a recent NPR/Ipsos poll showing that only 42% of gun owners favor a ban on assault weapons.
Now that the federal legislation has passed, Littman thinks that the action will shift to states, especially after the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down a New York law that put limits on carrying guns outside the home. The state has since passed a new law to screen those seeking gun permits.
Littman said that gun laws will be another instance of states diverging on a host of cultural issues. “What you are really going to see in this country is a divide between blue and red states,” he said. “It is going to be in many ways two completely different countries.”
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