Joe Biden has urged for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines after a series of mass shootings that stunned America, demanding: “How much more carnage are we willing to accept?”
In a primetime White House address on Thursday, with rows of candles behind him, the US president also called on Congress to strengthen background checks on gun buyers and challenge legal immunity for gun manufacturers.
Biden’s impassioned plea came after a month that saw 10 people shot dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two teachers killed in Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; both gunmen were 18 and used an AR-15-style weapon.
There have been 20 mass shootings since Uvalde, including on Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman shot and killed four people and himself at a medical office.
Having previously expressed outrage and grief, Biden became more specific on Thursday as he sought to break a wall of resistance on Capitol Hill. “We need to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21,” he said.
A previous ban on assault weapons, passed in 1994 with bipartisan support in Congress and backing from law enforcement, made a clear difference until it expired, the president continued.
“Nine categories of semiautomatic weapons were included in that ban, like AK-47s and AR-15s. And 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. Those are the facts.”
Biden also called for a ban on high capacity magazines that allow a gun to fire dozens of rounds in seconds. “Why in God’s name should an ordinary citizen [be] able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 300-round magazines that let mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes?” I have sued.
“The damage is so devastating. In Uvalde, parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children – nine and 10-year old-children. Enough!”
Biden pressed for expanded background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, fugitives and people under restraining orders, arguing that such a move is supported by most Americans, including most gun owners.
He also made the case for safe storage laws that would hold gun owners liable for not locking up their weapons. “If you own a weapon, you have a responsibility to secure it.”
He called for red flag laws so that a parent, teacher or counselor can alert a court that a child, student or patient is exhibiting violent tendencies, threatening classmates or experiencing suicidal thoughts, making them a danger to themselves or to others.
Biden said the US should repeal the liability shield that often protects gun manufacturers from being sued for the death and destruction caused by their weapons. “They’re the only industry in this country that has that kind of immunity. Imagine if the tobacco industry had been immune from being sued, where we’d be today. The gun industry’s special protections are outrageous. It must end.”
During his remarks, Biden emphasized that his aim was not to challenge the second amendment, and he championed those who have purchased and kept guns legally and safely. “We believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave,” he said. “I respect the culture and the tradition and the concerns of lawful gun owners.”
“At the same time,” he added, “the second amendment is not absolute.”
Biden has taken executive actions on gun safety efforts but more sweeping measures have repeatedly been frustrated by Republicans in Congress, where the gun lobby looms large. He acknowledged: “I just told you what I’d do. The question is what will the Congress do?
The address coincided with talks intensifying among a bipartisan group of senators discussing modest gun policy changes. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said the group is “making rapid progress” while Democratic Chris Murphy has expressed optimism.
Some progressives have urged Democrats to use the issue to mobilize their base in November’s midterm elections. Biden praised this potential when he said: “I’ve been in this fight for a long time. I know how hard it is, but I’ll never give up and, if Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of the American people won’t give up either.
“I believe the majority of you will act to turn your outrage into making this issue central to your vote. Enough, enough, enough!”
But partisan emotions were clear earlier on Thursday at a House of Representatives judiciary committee hearing that lasted more than 9 hours. Led by Democrats, it advanced legislation that would raise the age limit for purchasing a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 and make it a federal offense to import, manufacture or possess large-capacity magazines.
Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, insisted that the House bill would do nothing to stop mass shootings. “We need to get serious about understanding why this keeps happening,” he said. “Democrats are always fixated on curtailing the rights of law-abiding citizens rather than trying to understand why this evil happens.”
The bill has little chance of passing in the evenly divided Senate.
Biden has used national speeches in the past to speak about the coronavirus pandemic and the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. But the president has used such addresses sparingly during his nearly 18 months in office, especially during evening hours.
Activists welcomed his latest address on guns. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said: “The President was speaking on behalf of the vast majority of Americans when he said it’s time for the Senate to show up and take action to keep our families safe.
“The American people aren’t asking for much – they just want to go to the grocery store, send their kids to school, go to church, and walk the streets without getting shot down. If the Senate can’t meet that basic need, this country is in deep trouble.”
Gabrielle Canon contributes reporting.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism