President Joe Biden called on Congress to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in an evening speech to address the wave of shooting massacres that have devastated communities across the country.
His speech, carried by major broadcast and cable networks, seemed designed to rally public support for a series of measures amid Republican intransigence toward any measures that limit gun rights.
“We can’t fail the American people again,” Biden said from the White House, against a backdrop of rows of candles.
Biden referred some of the horrific stories that came out of Uvalde, TX last week, when a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers. But there have been a series of mass shootings since then, including one in Tulsa, OK, on Wednesday.
“Over the last two decades, more school aged children have died from guns than on duty police officers and active duty military combined. Think about that. More kids than on duty cops killed by guns. More kids than soldiers killed by guns. For God’s sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept. How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say, enough. Enough.”
He also seemed to recognize the political realities of passing an assault weapons ban, as he said that if that can’t be accomplished, “then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.” He also called for strengthening background checks, passing safe storage and red flag laws, and repealing the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability, as well as to take steps to address mental health. He called them “rational, common sense measures,” as polls show widespread public support. A Politico/Morning Consult poll last week, in the wake of the Uvalde shootings, showed that 67% strongly or somewhat support a ban on assault weapons.
“Let us meet the moment. Let us finally do something,” Biden said.
A bipartisan group of senators has been in discussions about possible legislation, although there is still substantial doubt over a breakthrough. The Democratic-led House will vote on a series of measures next week, and there are plans to hold a hearing an assault weapons ban, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to members. After lengthy debate, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill to ban high capacity magazines and bump stocks, as well as raise the age for purchasing semi-automatic weapons to 21. But the ultimate hurdle for any legislation is to garner the support of 60 Senators, enough to overcome a filibuster, and Biden acknowledged that it would need a minimum of 10 Republicans.
Biden said, “I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democratic and Republican senators trying to find a way, but my God. The fact that the majority of Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable.”
As vice president, Biden led the White House’s response to the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, but legislation stalled out in the Senate.
“This is not about taking away anyone’s guns. It’s not about vilifying gun owners,” Biden said. “In fact, we believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave. I respect the culture, the tradition, the concerns of lawful gun owners. At the same time, the Second Amendment, like all other rights, is not absolute.”
Congress passed a ban on assault weapons, including the AR-15 and the AK-47, in 1994, but it expired a decade later. “In the 10 years it was law, mass shootings went down. But after Republicans let the law expire in 2004, and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled,” Biden said.
Biden noted that the damage from an AR-15 rifle “was so devastating in Uvalde, parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children. Nine and ten year old children. Enough.”