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President Biden calls for assault weapons ban and other measures to curb gun violence

President Joe Biden speaks about the recent mass shootings and urges Congress to pass laws to combat gun violence at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington on June 2, 2022.
Saul Loeb
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Joe Biden speaks about the recent mass shootings and urges Congress to pass laws to combat gun violence at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington on June 2, 2022.

Updated June 2, 2022 at 7:50 PM ET

President Biden called on Congress to ban assault weapons or to raise the age to be able to buy one from 18 to 21 and other measures to curb gun violence in the United States in an address Thursday night.

"If we can't ban assault weapons then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21," Biden said.

He also called for a ban on high-capacity magazines, background checks, red flag laws and a repeal of the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from legal liability if their weapons are used in violence.

The remarks came the day after the 233rd mass shooting in the U.S. this year took place in Tulsa, Okla., that resulted in five people dead including the shooter at Saint Francis Hospital.

This was a week after 19 students and two teachers were killed, and 17 others injured at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. And a little over two weeks after 10 people were killed and three others were injured during a racist attack at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.

"There are too many other schools, too many other day places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America," Biden said Thursday evening. "The issue we face is one of consciousness and common sense. ... I want to be very clear: This is not about taking away anyone's guns. It's not about vilifying gun owners."

The president cited a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Center that guns were the leading cause of death among children.

"Over the past two decades, more school-aged children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined," Biden said.

He described the impact of the AR-15 rifle on the children in the Texas school shooting.

"The damage was so devastating in Uvalde that parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children, 9- and 10-year-olds," he said.

Reaction from gun control advocates was mixed. Some groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action praised the speech, while others — including Guns Down America; Manny Oliver, the father of a child killed in the Parkland shooting; and former Parkland student Cameron Kasky — criticized the president for not taking more aggressive steps to lobby Congress or change laws.

"Ok...I was expecting an executive order and all we got was an executive prayer," Oliver tweeted.

As a senator, Biden was the author of the assault-weapons ban, which was in place for a decade until 2004. But in today's political climate, the president has few realistic avenues to pursue gun control without congressional action.

Although there are nascent signs of an agreement on potential legislation, the prospect of bipartisan action on guns typically fades in the weeks after mass shootings.

"This time, it's time for the Senate to do something," Biden said, adding that 10 Republican senators need to be on board with any effort.

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

On the Senate side, a deal may be further away but a bipartisan group of senators led by John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spent the past week attempting to reach a deal on potential legislation that would address gun violence.

On the table are state incentives to pass red flag laws, updates to school safety protocols and changes to background checks.

But it is easier said than done. GOP members have historically stood together in opposition to any law that could limit gun rights.

Separately in the Democratic-controlled House, the Judiciary Committee held a testy markup Thursday to advance a series of bills that would, among other things, raise the age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high-capacity magazines and increase background check requirements — nearly all of the provisions Biden advocated for in his speech.

The full House could vote as early as next week on the package. The prospect of that measure making any headway in the Senate are close to nil.

Without congressional action, executive action is limited. Biden has signed a series of executive orders that tackle ghost guns and braces on AR-15 pistols — but such rules can be undone by a following administration.

Biden Cabinet members call for "common sense gun laws"

Members of Biden's Cabinet have spoken out in favor of congressional action to enact "common sense gun laws" in recent days.

"We, of course, hold the people of Tulsa in our hearts but we, of course, reaffirm our commitment to passing common sense gun safety laws," Vice President Harris said at the top of remarks at an event highlighting federal student loan cancellation for students of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain. "No more excuses. Thoughts and prayers are important but we need Congress to act."

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed the sentiment at the start of a speech at Georgetown University.

"Added to this litany of challenges, the tragic events recently in New York and Texas, where innocent people shopping at a grocery store and children in school were gunned down because we as a nation have not yet summoned the courage to put common sense gun laws into place," Vilsack said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.