WASHINGTON (AP) — “Enough, enough,” President Joe Biden exclaimed repeatedly as he delivered an impassioned address to the nation imploring Congress to take action on gun violence after the mass shootings that , he said, had turned schools, supermarkets and other places of daily life into “killing fields.”
If lawmakers fail to act, he warned, voters should use their “outrage” to make this a central issue in November’s midterm elections.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday night, Biden acknowledged political headwinds as he sought to pressure Congress to pass tougher gun limits after those efforts failed at the aftermath of past attacks.
He repeated calls to reinstate the ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – and said that if Congress did not pass all of his proposals, it should at least find compromises like keeping firearms for people with mental health issues or increasing the age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.
“How much more carnage are we willing to accept? Biden asked after last week’s shooting by an 18-year-old gunman, which killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and another attack Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman shot and killed four people and himself in a medical office. “Don’t tell me increasing the age won’t make any difference,” he said.
The most recent shootings closely followed the May 14 assault in Buffalo, New York, where an 18-year-old white youth wearing military gear and broadcasting live with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle in a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood, killing 10 people and injuring three others in what authorities called “racially motivated violent extremism”.
“This time we have to take the time to do something,” Biden said, calling the Senate, where 10 Republican votes would be needed to pass legislation.
For all the passion of Biden’s speech, and for all of his big demands and small fallback alternatives, any major action by Congress is still a long way off.
“I know how difficult it is, but I will never give up, and if Congress fails, I believe that this time the majority of the American people will not give up either,” he added. “I believe the majority of you are taking action to transform your outrage by putting this issue at the center of your vote.
Adding a stark perspective to the deaths of young people, he noted that data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that “guns are the number one killer of children in the United States of America”, ahead of car accidents.
“Over the past two decades, more school-aged children have died from firearms than serving police and active-duty military — combined,” he said.
Aware of continued criticism from gun rights advocates, Biden insisted his appeal was not intended to “vilify gun owners” or “take guns from anyone.”
“We should treat responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave,” Biden said. “It’s not about taking away anyone’s rights, it’s about protecting children, it’s about protecting families.”
He called on Congress to end “outrageous” protections for gunmakers, which dramatically limit their liability for how their firearms are used, comparing it to the tobacco industry, which has faces repeated litigation over the role of its products in cancer and other diseases.
“Imagine if the tobacco industry had been immune from lawsuits, where we would be today,” Biden said.
All major broadcast networks broke from regular programming to air Biden’s remarks at 7:30 p.m. EDT, before primetime broadcasts began.
Biden has delivered major speeches on the coronavirus pandemic and the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. But the president has used those addresses sparingly during his nearly 18 months in office, especially in the evenings.
Earlier Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the shooting in Oklahoma, saying, “We hold all the people of Tulsa in our hearts, but we also reaffirm our commitment to passing common sense laws on the gun safety.”
“No more excuses. Thoughts and prayers are important, but not enough,” Harris said. “We need Congress to act.
Visiting Uvalde on Sunday, Biden wept privately for more than three hours with anguished families. Faced with chants of “do something” as he left a church service, the president vowed, “We will.” In his address, he spoke of receiving a note from a woman at a church in Uvalde mourning the loss of her grandson, calling on people to come together and take action.
His Thursday night speech coincided with intensifying bipartisan talks among a core group of senators discussing modest gun policy changes. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said the group is “making rapid progress” and Biden spoke to Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, among Democrats’ key efforts on the issue.
Democrats hope Biden’s remarks will encourage bipartisan talks in the Senate and pressure Republicans to strike a deal. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was “encouraged” by the negotiations in Congress, but the president wanted to give lawmakers “some space” to keep talking.
Private talks in the Senate, which are split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, are unlikely to produce the kind of sweeping reforms envisioned by the Democratic-led House — which has approved sweeping legislation on background checks and will then turn to a ban on assault weapons.
A House package debated Thursday — and approved by a committee, 25-19 — is less sweeping but includes a provision raising the age to purchase semi-automatic firearms to 21. He still faces slim chances in the Senate.
Instead, bipartisan senators are likely to propose a more progressive package that would increase federal funding to support state gun safety efforts — with incentives to bolster school safety and mental health resources. The package may also encourage “red flag laws” to keep guns away from those who could do harm.
While the Senate approved a modest measure to encourage compliance with background checks after a 2017 mass church shooting in Texas and one in Parkland, Florida the following year, no major legislation has authorized the bedroom following the devastating massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed.
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