Biden urges Congress to renew assault weapons ban, pass stricter gun laws

President Biden on Thursday called for a series of specific actions to respond to recent mass shootings, using a prime-time address to urge Congress to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines or otherwise raise the purchasing age from 18 to 21. 

Biden also pushed Congress to expand background checks, pass “red flag” laws and safe storage requirements, as well as repeal the liability shield for gun manufacturers and dealers following a spate of recent mass shootings across the country.

The president called the proposals “rational, common-sense measures” to tackle gun violence in the United States.  

“How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden said in the address from the White House. “Let’s meet the moment. Let us finally do something.” 

Biden’s speech represented his most detailed plea yet to Congress for action in the wake of a devastating mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman. That mass shooting followed another at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., last month that killed 10 people.

While Biden has called for a renewal of the 1994 assault weapons ban and expanded background checks before, he has largely shied away from directing Congress to take specific actions in the wake of the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo. The president has faced calls from some advocates to do more to pressure Congress for action.  

Biden’s speech was scheduled Thursday following news that a gunman killed four people at a medical building in Tulsa, Okla.  

The president said such measures aren’t about “taking away anyone’s guns” or “vilifying gun owners” but rather about protecting children and communities from gun violence.  

“It’s about protecting our freedom to go to school, to a grocery store, to a church without being shot and killed,” Biden said.  

In addition to gun-related proposals, Biden also called on Congress to address the mental health crisis.

His comments came shortly after a bipartisan group of senators began to quietly negotiate gun reform measures in the wake of the Uvalde elementary school shooting. The White House has said that Biden is giving space to those negotiations and is encouraged by them. 

Still, an assault weapons ban is highly unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats need 10 Republicans to vote with them in order to overcome the 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation.  

Biden argued that lawmakers should at least raise the purchasing age to 21 if they do not renew the assault weapons ban outright.  

“Don’t tell me raising the age won’t make a difference,” he said. “Enough.” 

It’s unclear what might come from the bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill, and Democrats are skeptical of the effort given past failed efforts to accomplish gun reform.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of gun control measures along party lines earlier Thursday, and the House is expected to vote on it next week. The bill, which would raise the purchasing age for semi-automatic weapons to 21, ban high-capacity magazines and bump stocks and require background checks for so-called ghost guns, is not expected to advance in the Senate.  

Biden, a previous longtime senator from Delaware, expressed frustration at the large Republican opposition to gun restrictions and predicted that voters would punish those who do not act in the wake of these recent mass shootings. 

“The fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote I find unconscionable,” he said. “We can’t fail the American people again.” 

Polls have shown that universal background checks and red flag laws, which allow firearms to be temporarily taken away from individuals posing a danger to themselves or others, garner broad support among the American public.  

Biden delivered the remarks from the White House’s East Room after walking down Cross Hall, which was lined with white candles lit for victims of gun violence. He reflected on his recent trips to Uvalde and Buffalo during which he met with families of victims killed in both shootings.  

“At both places we spent hours with hundreds of family members who were broken, whose lives will never be the same,” he said. “They had one message for all of us: Do something.”  

Updated: 8:58 p.m.

Tags gun violence Joe Biden mass shooting

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