President Biden, in a somber speech evoking the pain of the death of two of his own children, implored Congress on Wednesday to “please do something” to stop the flow of guns involved in mass shootings like the school massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers a year ago in Uvalde, Texas.
Marking the anniversary of the killings, Mr. Biden called again for tighter laws on firearms, including a ban on assault weapons like the one used by the killer in Uvalde. But he implicitly acknowledged that the chances of passing such gun laws anytime soon were slim, and he offered no new ideas for how to overcome entrenched opposition.
“How many more parents will live their worst nightmare before we stand up to the gun lobby?” the president asked during a brief speech at the White House, flanked by the first lady, Jill Biden, and standing in front of 21 burning candles honoring the victims. “It’s time to act, it’s time to act,” he added. “It’s time to make our voices heard, not as Democrats or as Republicans but as friends, as neighbors as parents, as fellow Americans.”
In a nod to the political reality of a Congress heavily influenced by gun rights activists and to the frustrations of many families of those killed, he said: “I know for a long time it’s been hard to make progress. But there will come a point when our voices are so loud, our determination so clear, that we can no longer be stopped. We will act.”
Mr. Biden’s statement came a year after a gunman burst into Robb Elementary School in the small Texas town of Uvalde and opened fire on a fourth-grade class in one of the deadliest such campus attacks in American history. More than 370 police officers responded but failed to confront the gunman for 77 minutes. School and police officials later lost their jobs and the school district dismantled its police force altogether. The school building is set to be demolished.
But the slaughter did little to move lawmakers at the state or national level. While a Texas legislative committee advanced a bill raising the age to buy an AR-15-style rifle to 21 from 18, the bill never got a vote on the House floor. The state also stopped defending in court a higher age requirement for carrying a handgun, effectively lowering the age for that to 18 from 21.
Congress passed legislation with modest changes, enhancing background checks for gun buyers under 21, increasing funds for mental health crisis intervention, bolstering laws against straw purchases and encouraging states to enact red-flag laws authorizing the government to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed likely to pose a danger to themselves or others. Mr. Biden signed those measures into law.
In his statement on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that legislation did not go far enough and again called on Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, impose universal background checks, require safe storage of firearms, pass a national red-flag law and eliminate immunity from liability for the gun industry.
The National Rifle Association has resisted such laws, calling them part of a larger campaign by leftist politicians to undermine the Second Amendment and ultimately take guns away from law-abiding citizens.
“Gun-hating politicians, media, and activists label law-abiding Americans as crazy if we even begin suggest their end goal is confiscation,” the group wrote on Twitter this week, citing a White House post on that platform advocating an assault weapon ban. “They scream, ‘No one is coming for your guns!’ However, today’s White House tweet advocating for widespread gun bans contradicts this.”
During his speech at the White House, Mr. Biden addressed the loved ones of those killed in Uvalde in personal terms. “To the families of the children and educators, we know one year later it’s still so raw for you,” Mr. Biden said. “A year of missed birthdays and holidays, school plays, soccer games, just that smile. A year of everyday joy is gone forever. The bend of his smile, the perfect pitch of her laugh.”
He made clear he was speaking from experience, later alluding to his traumas as a parent who lost his first wife and 1-year-old daughter in a car accident in 1972 and then his grown son Beau Biden to cancer in 2015.
“While everyone’s pain is different, we like many of you have some understanding of what it’s like to lose a child — on more than one occasion,” he said. “For those who’ve lost a loved one in Uvalde, to the moms and dads, the brothers, the sisters, the grandmoms, the grandpops, this is what I know,” he said. “They’ll never be gone from your heart, they’ll always be part of you.”