WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday demanded lawmakers respond to communities turned into “killing fields” by exceeding far-reaching limits on weapons, calling on Congress to ban assault weapons, expanding background checks and passing “red flag” laws. after massacres in Texel and New York.
In a rare evening address to the nation, Biden challenged Republicans to ignore the repeated spasms of anger and grief from gun violence by continuing to block gun measures supported by a large majority in both parties and even gun owners.
“My God,” he declared from Cross Hall, a ceremonial part of the White House residence, which was lined with candles honoring victims of gun violence. “The fact that the majority of Republicans in the Senate don’t want these proposals to be debated, not even voted on, is unreasonable to me. We cannot fail the American people again.”
Mr Biden’s speech came a day after a mass shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which killed four people, and nine days after a massacre in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers. Ten days earlier, 10 black people were gunned down in a Buffalo supermarket. The list, Mr Biden said, goes on and on.
“After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland — nothing has been done,” he said, bemoaning decades of inactivity.
With the 17-minute speech, Mr. Biden abruptly let go of his White House’s reluctance to engage in what could turn into another fruitless partisan showdown that unfolded during funerals in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa. After weeks of carefully calibrating his calls to action, the president did not hold back on Thursday.
“Enough. It’s time for each of us to do our part,” he told Americans. “For the children we have lost. For the children we can save. For the nation we love.”
“Let’s hear the cry,” he said, almost pleading with his fellow politicians in Washington. “Let’s meet the moment. Let’s finally do something.”
Whether that will happen remains unclear. Despite his forceful tone, in his speech, Mr. Biden virtually acknowledged the political realities that could make him yet another in a long line of presidents who had demanded action against guns, but failed. He called the fight “hard” and shortly after pushing for a ban on assault weapons, he offered alternatives if that proved impossible.
“If we can’t ban assault weapons, we need to raise the buying age from 18 to 21, and strengthen background checks,” he said. He called on Congress to “enact safe storage and red flag laws, repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability, and address the mental health crisis.”
In his remarks, Mr. Biden turned his apparent cynicism about Republicans into something of a political threat, saying that “if Congress fails, I believe that this time a majority of the American people will not give up either. I believe the majority of you will act to turn your outrage into putting this issue at the center of your vote.”
Mr Biden is no newcomer to the arms debate.
He has repeatedly said he supports the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban he helped pass as a senator, which was law for a decade before it expired in 2004. at a shooting in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
But both measures are highly unlikely to pass in Congress, where fierce Republican opposition has historically stood in their way. Lawmakers in both parties have recently said they don’t believe there is enough bipartisan support to approve either approach.
House Democrats on Thursday proposed a broad package of gun control laws that would ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles to people under 21 and ban the sale of magazines with more than 10 ammunition. But those measures, too, would almost certainly die in the Senate.
Democrats have introduced legislation in response to the murders in Uvalde and the racist massacre in Buffalo — both, police say, at the hands of 18-year-old gunmen using legally purchased AR-15-type weapons.
A bitterly divided House Judiciary Committee paid attention to the legislation on Thursday and passed it Thursday night, with a party vote of 25 to 19. Fierce Republican opposition during the committee debate underscored the partisan animosity.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned that another shooting was not far away. He begged the Republicans, “My friends, what the hell are you waiting for?”
Republicans scoff at such measures as unconstitutional attempts to take guns from law-abiding Americans, depriving them of their right to defend themselves. Representative Dan Bishop, Republican from North Carolina, expressed outrage that Democrats had portrayed the Republicans as complicit in mass shootings, stating, “You’re not going to bully yourself to deprive Americans of fundamental rights.”
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said government officials have been in close contact with lawmakers in recent days as a bipartisan group of senators discussed a tighter set of limits on gun ownership.
Negotiations focused on expanding background checks and giving states incentives to pass red flag laws that allow weapons to be seized from dangerous people. The group is also looking at proposals on safe storage of weapons at home, community violence and mental health, according to aides and senators involved in the talks.
With Republicans unanimously against most major gun control measures, the Senate talks probably offer the best chance of finding a two-part compromise on guns that could pass the 50 to 50 Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass a vote. filibuster to break and legislation to vote.
But the company faces great opportunity, with little evidence that either side is willing to give ground to a debate that has stalled for years.
Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut leads the talks for the Democrats, along with his party colleagues Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. The Republican senators they deal with include South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Pennsylvania’s Patrick J. Toomey, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, and Maine’s Susan Collins.
Those nine negotiators met via Zoom on Wednesday to discuss their progress, meeting for an hour after days of individual phone calls and smaller meetings with each other and their colleagues. Talks were expected to continue before the Senate returns early next week.
“We are making rapid progress toward a common-sense package that can gain support from both Republicans and Democrats,” Ms. Collins said in a brief statement after the meeting.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, a top ally of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has also been involved in discussions, including a Tuesday meeting with Mr. Murphy, Ms. Sinema and Senator Thom Tillis, the Republican from North Carolina.
Democratic leaders have warned that if a deal cannot be reached soon, they will force votes in the House on bills that lack Republican support to show Americans what lawmakers stand in the way of passing. weapon security measures.
“I am clear about the history of failure,” Mr Blumenthal said in an interview after Wednesday’s meeting. “But if ever there was a moment to shut up or shut up, this is it.”
In the days immediately following the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, both President and Vice President Kamala Harris largely stayed away from direct negotiations with lawmakers about how to create a response to the shootings that could take place in Congress.
But on Thursday, Mr. Biden abandoned that approach and instead decided to lay down a marker that will cement his legacy as a president who fought for tougher gun laws, successful or not.
In his speech on Thursday, Mr. Biden described the deep sadness he experienced as he and his wife spoke to the families of victims in the two mass shootings.
“In 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. Just do something. For God’s sake, do something.”
“How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” he asked. “How many innocent American lives have to be taken before we say, enough. Enough.”
And he made clear the purpose of his comment, saying it is now up to Congress to pass the far-reaching laws it has denied in the past.
“The question now is, what will Congress do?” he said. The president said he supported the bipartisan group’s efforts in the Senate to find a compromise, but called it the least lawmakers should do.
Thursday night’s approach was more like former President Barack Obama’s response in January 2013, just weeks after the Newtown school shooting.
Mr. Obama, flanked by Mr. Biden, then vice president, proposed a gun control package that would include: ensuring that all gun owners undergo background checks; improving state reporting of criminals and the mentally ill; ban assault weapons; and the magazine clip capacity at 10 bullets.
In the face of Republican opposition, Mr. Obama dropped his demands for a ban on assault weapons and limits on the size of magazine clips. After months of urging from Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden, the Senate rejected a bipartisan bid to expand background checks.
In scathing remarks after the bill died, Obama mocked senators for deciding that children’s lives weren’t worth passing legislation. A decade later, Mr Obama’s grim assessment serves as a warning to Mr Biden of what could happen again.
“All in all,” Obama said at the time, “this was a pretty embarrassing day for Washington.”
Emily Cochrane† Catie Edmondson and Zolan Kanno Youngs reporting contributed.