Administration

Biden says gun control up to Congress: ‘I can’t dictate this stuff’

President Biden said Monday that it’s up to Congress to outlaw assault weapons and strengthen background checks for gun sales, telling reporters: “I can’t dictate this stuff.”  

“I can do the things I’ve done and any executive action I can take, I’ll continue to take. But I can’t outlaw a weapon. I can’t change a background check. I can’t do that,” Biden said after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.  

Asked if he is optimistic for getting a deal to address gun violence after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that he had tapped Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to negotiate with Democrats, Biden replied: “I don’t know.” 

“McConnell is a rational Republican. Cornyn is as well,” he said. “I think there’s a recognition on their part that they — we can’t continue like this. We can’t do this.”

Biden and McConnell successfully negotiated several deals when Biden was vice president, most notably a deal to keep many of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts in place and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff at the start of 2013.  

But the president has made clear in recent days that Senate Democrats led by Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) will handle the negotiations on Capitol Hill over gun control.  

Asked on Monday about the prospect of passing legislation to encourage states to set up red flag laws to prohibit people who are deemed dangers to themselves or others from possessing guns, Biden replied: “That’s hard to say because I have not been negotiating with any of the Republicans.” 

The president, however, signaled support for assault-style rifles such as the AR-15, which the shooter used in Uvalde, which are capability of firing rounds quickly without manually cycling a bolt or lever.  

“I know that it makes no sense to be able to purchase something that can fire up to 300 rounds,” he said. “I know what happened when we had rational action before, when the crime bill was — the law that got passed. It did significantly cut down on mass murders,” referring to the 10-year assault weapons ban included in the 1994 crime bill. 

The president, however, reiterated his opposition to 100-round magazines, rarely used devices that are legal in some states.  

“There’s only one reason for something that can fire 100 shots,” he said, and talked about hearings he held as a senator on “rational gun laws,” according to a White House pool report.  

He also recalled a past visit to a trauma hospital in New York where doctors showed him gunshot injuries.  

“They showed me an x-ray,” he said, recalling how a doctor explained that a larger caliber 9 mm bullet causes a lot more damage than a smaller .22-caliber projectile. “A 9 mm bullet blows the lung out of the body.”   

“There’s simply no rational basis for it in terms of self-protection, hunting,” he said, according to the pool report.  

“The Constitution, the Second Amendment was never absolute. You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed,” he said, repeating something he said a day after 21 people were killed in Uvalde, Texas, at an elementary school.  

Biden waved off arguments that assault-style rifles need to be legal to give citizens enough firepower to resist government tyranny.  

“There was a while there where people were saying that, you know, the Tree of Liberty is watered with the blood of patriots and what we have to do is … take on the government when they’re wrong. Well, to do that, you need an F-15, you know? Or you need an Abrams tank,” he said.  

“I think things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it,” he said, echoing remarks by other Democrats such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who expressed their views in recent days that Republicans seem more willing to negotiate on gun control since 19 children and two teachers died in Uvalde.  

Biden pledged to take action to curb gun violence during a visit to Robb Elementary School and a local church in Uvalde, where a crowd of demonstrators chanted “Do something.”  

“We will,” Biden replied, giving the crowd a thumbs up.  

Asked Monday if he now feels more motivated to act on gun-control proposals, Biden said: “I’ve been pretty motivated all along.”  

“The folks who were victimized, their families, they spent three hours and 40 minutes with me. They waited all that time. Some came two hours early. The pain is palpable. And I think a lot of it is unnecessary. So I’m going to continue to push, and we’ll see how this works,” he said of his trip to Texas to meet the victims’ families.   

Updated: 3:31 p.m.

Tags Biden gun regulation John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Second Amendment Texas school shooting
See all Hill.TV See all Video