The Texas shooting is a new test of Biden’s long gun battle

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, surveyed the collection of black military-style rifles on display in the center of the room as he denounced the sale of guns whose “only real function is to kill people at a wild pace.” “

That was nearly three decades ago, and Congress was about to pass an assault weapons ban. But the law eventually expired, and weapons that were once illegal are now readily available, most recently by slaughtering at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The tragedy that occurred less than two weeks after another mass shooting a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, has focused Biden’s presidency on one of the greatest political challenges of his career – the long fight for gun control.


Over the years, Biden has been closely involved in the movement’s most notable achievements, such as the 1994 assault weapon ban, and its most disturbing disappointments, including the failure to pass new legislation following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. to adopt . Now his White House, which has already attempted to curb gun violence through executive orders, is organizing phone calls with activists and experts to chart a way forward.

“He understands the history of the problem. He understands how politics has changed,” said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady, the gun control advocacy group. “He senses missed opportunities from the past and understands this is his last chance to make an impact on gun violence in America.”

Even for a politician known for his passion, Biden’s reaction to the recent Texas shooting was scathing.


“Where’s the backbone, where’s the guts to stand up to a very powerful lobby?” Biden said Wednesday as he asked Congress to pass new legislation.

Stef Feldman, a deputy assistant to the president, said the cascade of deaths — from Buffalo to Uvalde to everyday shootings that don’t make national headlines — only increases the urgency of the administration’s effort.

“Every story we hear about people lost to gun violence gives more energy, more drive to continue the work,” she said. “If we can save just one life by pushing a creative political idea a little harder, it’s worth it.”

But executive actions – such as Biden’s order targets ghost weaponswhich are privately made firearms with no serial numbers might be the best the White House can do if Senate Republicans remain opposed to new restrictions and Democrats unwilling to sidestep filibusters.


More challenges could come to court, and even the rules for ghost guns could face litigation.

“We need to be clear,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “That is the job of the Senate. It’s time for the Senate to actually stand up and do something.” (Edited) Privately made firearms with no serial numbers — might be the best thing the White House can do if Senate Republicans continue to oppose new gun restrictions and Democrats don’t willing to circumvent the filibuster.

“We need to be clear,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “That is the job of the Senate. It’s time for the Senate to actually stand up and do something.”

It’s a very different situation than years ago when Senator Biden was working on gun legislation. Fears of violent crime helped encourage bipartisan compromise, and conservative rhetoric on gun ownership was less extreme.


First, in 1993 Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which requires a background check when anyone purchases a gun from a state-licensed dealer. The measure was named after James Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot and wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. on President Ronald Reagan.

Next, in 1994, Congress approved the ban on assault weapons as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The law banned certain weapons, like the AR-15, and restricted the types of military enhancements firearms could have.

However, the ban included a sunset provision and was not renewed in 2004. Although the vast majority of shootings are committed with handguns, military-style semi-automatic rifles are the staple of the country’s deadliest massacres.

One of these guns was used at Sandy Hook, where 26 people, including 20 children, were killed.


The violence shocked the nation, and President Barack Obama asked Biden, then-Vice President, to lead a new push on gun control. Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.V., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., drafted legislation that would have expanded background checks.

In a speech less than three months after the shooting, Biden said, “The excuse that it is too politically risky to act is no longer acceptable.”

He recalled successfully pushing for the ban on assault weapons years earlier, despite warnings from the National Rifle Association that he would “take away your shotgun.”

“That kind of thing doesn’t work anymore,” Biden added.

But it worked, and the legislation failed in the US Senate. Biden described the vote as a betrayal of families who lost children in Sandy Hook, saying, “I don’t know how anyone who looked them in the eye could vote the way they did today.”

Darrell AH Miller, a Duke University law professor and Second Amendment expert, said the political landscape has already changed.


“It’s fair to say that the gun issue has become even more polarized,” he said. “And the intensity of gun rights opposition to any type of gun regulation of any kind has become more inflexible.”

Two years ago, firearms became the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, overtaking car accidents. There are around 400 million guns in the country, more than one for every human being. Military-style weapons are a staple of some Republican campaign ads.

“The reality is that we are not keeping up with the pace of the gun lobby in arming citizens,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“It’s time to ask yourself,” Guttenberg said, “why are Republicans so diametrically opposed to doing whatever it takes to save lives?”

At the state level, there have been some achievements, including a recent proliferation of so-called warning signs, which allow authorities to confiscate guns from people deemed mentally unstable.


But Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said those victories did not coincide with efforts to ease restrictions. He noted that some states allow people to carry guns without a license, even concealed.

“That was something that was pretty much unknown when Joe Biden came into the Senate,” he said.

As Biden launched his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, he said he wanted to bring back the assault weapons ban “even stronger.”

“And this time,” he wrote inside a New York Times commentary In 2019, “we will combine it with a buyback program to get as many assault weapons off our streets as quickly as possible.”

But there was no political way forward in the tightly divided Senate, and Biden’s major initial legislative efforts focused on coronavirus relief and infrastructure.


A few months after taking office, the president reacted furiously when a reporter asked if he didn’t prioritize gun control.

“I never prioritized that,” he said. “No one has worked harder to deal with the violence used by gun users than I have.”

On Wednesday, Biden sounded like a president preparing another push to end gun violence.

“I’ve spent my career as judiciary committee chairman and vice president advocating for sound gun reform,” he said.

“These actions that we have taken previously have saved lives. And they can do it again.”


More on the Uvalde, Texas shooting:

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Sarah Y. Kim

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