The speech, which compared dead American children to US casualties in war, came on a night when fellow Democrats on a House committee passed a string of proposals that most Americans might support but have no chance of passing through a GOP blockade in the Senate. The National Rifle Association immediately rejected his proposals, but a few Senate Republicans are still negotiating with Democrats.
Biden made clear he’s willing to accept far less than the measures he prefers – an assault weapons ban – in exchange for real federal action. In the speech, he laid out some main proposals: banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines or raising the age to purchase them to 21, strengthening background checks, enacting safe storage and red flag laws, repealing the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability and addressing the mental health crisis.
If Congress fails again this time, he asked Americans to vote in November, an acknowledgment that any legislative victory on gun safety will be hard to achieve – and an unusual call to political action from the White House.
Here are some of the key moments from Biden’s address to the nation Thursday:
“Memorial Day, this past Monday, Jill and I visited Arlington National Cemetery. … We saw rows and rows of crosses … honoring those who paid the ultimate price on battlefields around the world. The day before, we visited Uvalde – Uvalde, Texas. In front of Robb Elementary school, we stood before 21 crosses for 19 third and fourth graders and two teachers.”
Biden opens his speech equating the dead from domestic gun violence with the dead from American wars abroad. He appears at the White House with memorial candles behind him.
“I want to be very clear. This is not about taking away anyone’s guns. It’s not about vilifying gun owners. … I respect the culture and the tradition, the concerns of lawful gun owners.”
Here Biden answers the main charge of Republicans who oppose gun control measures: that the government wants to trample on their right to have guns. His promise here won’t stop those concerns or GOP attacks on him that use these lines.
“At the same time, the Second Amendment, like all other rights, is not absolute.”
Biden quotes the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia here and points out that machine guns and other types of weapons have long been regulated. In a statement, the NRA dismissed the speech: “All that the President repeatedly proposes will only infringe on the rights of those law-abiding who have never, and will never, commit a crime.”
“Guns are the No. 1 killer of children in the United States. Number one killer. More than car accidents, more than cancer.”
More US kids die from gun violence than from any single thing. It used to be motor vehicles. In the last few years it became guns.
Biden also argued that more kids have been killed by guns than on-duty police officers or soldiers over the past two decades, but the data for that claim was not immediately available.
“We should reinstate the assault weapons ban … we passed in 1994 with bipartisan support in Congress and the support of law enforcement.”
Biden helped pass that law in 1994. But the bipartisan majority that supported it then does not exist today. The law lapsed in 2004.
The bipartisan group now trying to eke out a marginal agreement after these most recent shootings is not thought to be even considering any of these suggestions.
“Why in God’s name should an ordinary citizen be able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 30-round magazines that let mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes? The damage was so devastating in Uvalde parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children. Nine- and 10-year-old children.”
Just like the assault weapons ban, a federal ban on large-capacity magazines expired in 2004.
“Red flag laws could have stopped both these shooters.”
After asking for laws that most Americans support but that Republicans in the Senate will oppose, Biden requests things that are currently under serious consideration by a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill.
However, New York’s red flag law failed to stop the Buffalo shooter. Texas does not have one. Florida passed a red flag law after a string of shootings there and Republicans did not pay a political price, which has led to some hope among advocates for new gun laws that a national red flag effort could be possible.
“If we can’t ban assault weapons as we should, we must at least raise the age to be able to purchase one to 21.”
Biden points out that the Uvalde shooter waited until he was 18 to buy guns his sister would not buy for him as a 17-year-old. He argues that 18-year-old service members in the military have supervision and training.
Waiting periods and age limits are restrictions that many Americans support and might actually cut down on some of these shootings.
While strong majorities of Americans support many of these individual proposals, most Americans do not generally think gun laws should be toughened. CNN’s Harry Enten has written about that conundrum.
“Imagine, if the tobacco industry had been immune from being sued, where it would be today. The gun industry special protections are outrageous. It must end.”
Biden’s claim that the gun industry is the only US industry immune from lawsuits is false. Read a CNN Fact Check.
Using lawsuits as a weapon against gun manufacturers is something California lawmakers are looking at right now, following on efforts by Texas to encourage lawsuits related to abortions and social media companies.
“Imagine being that little girl, that brave little girl in Uvalde who smeared blood off her murdered friend’s body on her own face to lie still among the corpses in her classroom and pretend she was dead in order to stay alive.”
This is indeed a horrible and moving story. Read more here. There is a growing push among gun safety advocates to share more gruesome details in order to shock people into action.
“Even before the pandemic, people were already hurting. There’s a serious mental health crisis in this country…”
Biden argues in favor of more spending on mental health here, separate from red flag laws. It’s worth noting that most gun deaths are suicides – 54% in 2020.
“The House of Representatives already passed key measures we need, expanding background checks to cover nearly all gun sales.”
These House-passed measures have no chance of passing in the Senate, where a minority can stop almost all legislation. To hear the argument against universal background checks, watch this interview by CNN’s Dana Bash with Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican.
“It’s time for the Senate to do something. But as we know, in order to … get anything done in the Senate, we need a minimum of 10 Republican senators.”
A few Democrats have declined to end the filibuster for certain pieces of legislation. In the Senate, 60 votes are required to get anything done. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the top Democratic negotiator, said Thursday he is “prepared for failure.”
“I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrat and Republican senators trying to find a way. But my God, the fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable.”
Biden shares the math with Americans here – it takes 10 Republicans to pass any legislation. What legislation will 10 Republicans support without losing Democrats? Whatever that is, that’s the legislation that can pass under the current rules.
“Since Uvalde, just over a week ago, there have been 20 other mass shootings in America, each with four or more people killed or injured, including yesterday at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
There have so far been more than 200 mass shootings in 2022, according to the non-profit organization Gun Violence Archive – including the shooting in Tulsa. That’s more shootings than days so far this year.
“If Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of the American people won’t give up either. I believe the majority of you will act and turn your outrage into making this issue central to your vote. Enough, enough, enough.”
Presidents don’t usually encourage people to vote for one side from the White House, where they are representing the entire country.
“It’s time for each of us to do our part. It’s time to act. For the children we’ve lost, for the children we can save, for the nation we love.”
One thing we know: More children will die this year from gun violence.