President Joe Biden greets former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona with an elbow bump April 8, 2021, after his Rose Garden news conference on gun safety. (Screen shot from White House livestream)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday reiterated his call on Congress to pass stalled gun legislation, but also outlined executive action he’s taking on several gun control measures, following deadly mass shootings last month in Colorado and Georgia.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it’s an international embarrassment,” Biden said in remarks in the Rose Garden outside the White House.
In attendance were gun control advocates, lawmakers and relatives of victims of gun violence, including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Biden said he had met many of the friends and family members in the audience and knows they have had to “bury a piece of their soul deep in the earth” due to gun violence.
“Last night, as I was coming to the Oval Office, I got the word that, in South Carolina, a physician with his wife, two grandchildren, and a person working at his house was gunned down— all five,” Biden said. “So many of the people sitting here today know that well, unfortunately. You know, they know what it’s like when the seconds change your life forever.”
The Associated Press reported that the suspect in the South Carolina murders was a former NFL football player later found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Biden urged the Senate to ban assault rifles, which are weapons typically used in mass shootings.
The president also wants Congress to require background checks for guns bought at gun shows, close loopholes in gun laws and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act—a law that protects people from domestic and sexual violence that passed the U.S. House in March. It lapsed in 2018.
Movement on gun control legislation has been uphill in the Senate, even after mass shootings like those in Colorado, Georgia and Florida.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement that he plans to soon bring legislation to the Senate floor, along with quickly confirming the president’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Michigan native and gun violence prevention advocate David Chipman.
“While the president’s executive actions are critical, they are not a substitute for meaningful legislation to address the gun violence epidemic,” Schumer said.
More than 11,000 people this year have died due to gun violence, according to Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan group that documents gun deaths in the U.S.
The Justice Department, within 60 days, will publish model “red flag” legislation for states, which will allow law enforcement or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove any firearms from an individual who either poses a risk to themselves or others. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have “red flag” laws.
The department will also release a report on firearm trafficking. The last report was conducted in 2000.
The Biden administration will also direct the DOJ to issue a proposed rule within 30 days that will stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” which are homemade guns that lack a serial number, making them difficult for law enforcement to trace.
And the administration said DOJ will issue a proposed rule that would “make clear when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act,” an administration fact sheet said.
Among the lawmakers in attendance at the Rose Garden was Rep. Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat who ran for Congress after her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was killed in a Florida gas station.
“This gun violence is unacceptable, it is unconscionable, and we must do better,” McBath said in a statement. “A majority of Americans support common-sense measures to help stop this violence, and today, I am truly proud to stand with the President as he fights for future generations, for survivors, and for mothers like me.”
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who represents the congressional district where at least 10 people were killed in March at a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, was also expected to be in attendance. That mass shooting followed another earlier in March that left six Asian American women dead in Atlanta, as well as two other people.
“Every day in this country, 316 people are shot. Every single day. A hundred and six of them die every day,” Biden said. “Our flag was still flying at half-staff for the victims of the horrific murder of eight primarily Asian American people in Georgia when 10 more lives were taken in a mass murder in Colorado.
“You probably didn’t hear it, but between those two incidents, less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings—850—that took the lives of more than 250 people, and left 500—500—injured. This is an epidemic, for God’s sake. And it has to stop.”
Former Rep. Gabby Giffords. D-Ariz., who in 2011 was shot in the head by a gunman while at a constituent event in Tucson and now leads a gun violence prevention advocacy group, was also present for Biden’s remarks. Six people died in that shooting, along with one member of her staff, Gabe Zimmerman.
Biden acknowledged that it’s difficult to have a conversation around guns, but stressed that most of his executive orders and gun legislation reform could be bipartisan.
“The idea that we have so many people dying every single day of gun violence is a blemish on our character as a nation,” Biden said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, has teamed up with Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, to sponsor legislation on gun background checks. The senators have advocated for background checks on all commercial sales of guns, but have also pushed for exemptions for known buyers, such as family and friends.
In a statement Toomey said he and his staff were reviewing the executive orders from the Biden administration.
“Lasting progress though is made through the legislative process,” he said. “If done in a manner that respects the rights of law-abiding citizens, I believe there is an opportunity to strengthen our background check system so that we are better able to keep guns away from those who have no legal right to them.”
A Grinnell College national poll conducted in March found that 81 percent of Americans said the right to bear and keep arms is very or somewhat important to them personally. That included 99 percent of Donald Trump voters and 95 percent of Republicans, compared to 62 percent of Biden voters and 63 percent of Democrats.
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