WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday demanded that lawmakers respond to communities turned into “killing fields” by enacting sweeping limits on guns, calling on Congress to ban assault-style weapons, expand background checks and to pass “red flag” laws after the massacres in Texas and New York.
In a rare evening address to the nation, Mr. Biden dared Republicans to ignore repeated convulsions of anger and grief over gun violence by continuing to block gun measures backed by large majorities in both parties. , and even among gun owners.
“My God,” he said 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 Senate Republicans do not want any of these proposals, even if they are debated or put to a vote, I find unacceptable. We can no longer disappoint the American people.
Mr. Biden’s speech came a day after a mass shooting in Tulsa, Okla., which killed four people and nine days after a massacre in Uvalde, Texas, which claimed the lives of 19 elementary school students and two teachers. Ten days earlier, 10 black people had been shot dead in a Buffalo grocery store. The list, Mr. Biden said, goes on.
“After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing was done,” he said, lamenting decades of inaction.
With the 17-minute address, Mr. Biden abruptly dropped his White House’s reluctance to engage in what could become another fruitless partisan showdown, which unfolded amid funerals in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa. . After weeks of carefully calibrating his calls to action, the president Thursday didn’t hold back.
“Enough enough. It’s time for each of us to do our part,” he told Americans. “For the children we’ve lost. For the children we can save. For the nation we love.
“Let’s hear the call and 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 uncertain. Despite his forceful tone, Mr. Biden in his speech all but acknowledged the political realities that could make him another in a long line of presidents to have demanded action on guns, only to then fail. He called the fight “tough” and moments after calling for a ban on assault weapons, he offered alternatives if that proved impossible.
“If we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to buy them from 18 to 21, strengthen background checks,” he said. He called on Congress to “enact safe storage and red flag laws, repeal immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability, tackle the mental health crisis” .
In his remarks, Mr. Biden turned his obvious cynicism about Republicans into something of a political threat, saying that “if Congress fails, I believe that this time the majority of the American people will not give up either. I believe the majority of you will act to transform your outrage by placing this issue at the center of your vote.
Mr. Biden is no newcomer to the gun debate.
He has repeatedly said he favors reinstating the assault weapons ban he helped pass as a senator and which was law for a decade before it expired in 2004. He called lawmakers to pass universal background checks for a decade since 20 children were killed. in a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
But both of these measures are seen as highly unlikely to pass in Congress, where fierce Republican opposition has historically clashed. Lawmakers from both parties recently said they don’t think there’s enough bipartisan support to endorse either approach.
House Democrats on Thursday proposed a sweeping package of gun control laws that would ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles to people under 21 and ban the sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds. But those measures, too, were almost certain to die in the Senate.
Democrats introduced the legislation in response to the Uvalde killings and the racist Buffalo Massacre — both police say were at the hands of 18-year-old gunmen using legally purchased AR-15-style weapons.
A bitterly divided House Judiciary Committee spent Thursday considering the bill and approved it Thursday night, in a 25-19 vote. The fierce Republican opposition in the committee debate underscored the animosity partisan.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned another shooting was not far off. He pleaded with Republicans, “My friends, what are you waiting for?”
Republicans deride measures such as unconstitutional attempts to take guns from law-abiding Americans, stripping them of their right to defend themselves. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Republican from North Carolina, expressed outrage that Democrats have portrayed Republicans as complicit in mass shootings, saying, “You’re not going to force yourself to strip Americans of their basic rights.”
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said administration officials have been in close contact with lawmakers over the past few days as a bipartisan group of senators discussed a package tighter limits on gun ownership.
Negotiations have focused on expanding background checks and encouraging states to pass red flag laws, which allow firearms to be seized from dangerous people. The group is also considering proposals on safe storage of guns in the home, community violence and mental health, according to aides and senators involved in the talks.
With Republicans unanimously opposed to most major gun control measures, the Senate talks offer what is probably the best chance of finding a bipartisan compromise on guns that could pass the Senate 50-50, where 60 votes are needed to break up a filibuster and bring a bill to a vote.
But the effort faces long odds, with little evidence that either side is willing to give ground on a debate that has stalled for years.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut is leading the talks for Democrats, joined by fellow party members Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. Republican senators they are huddled with include Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine.
These nine negotiators met on Zoom on Wednesday to discuss their progress, meeting for an hour after days of one-on-one phone calls and small meetings with each other and colleagues. Talks were expected to continue before the Senate returns early next week.
“We are moving quickly toward a common-sense package that could garner support from Republicans and Democrats alike,” Ms Collins said in a brief statement after the meeting.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a top ally of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, also took part in discussions, including a meeting on Tuesday with Mr. Murphy, Ms. Sinema and Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican of Carolina North.
Democratic leaders have warned that if a deal cannot be reached quickly, they will force votes on bills in the House, which do not have Republican support, to show Americans which lawmakers oppose the adoption of gun safety measures.
“I’m clear on the history of failure,” Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview after Wednesday’s meeting. “But if there’s a time to shut up or be quiet, this is it.”
In the days immediately following the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, President and Vice President Kamala Harris largely stayed away from any direct negotiations with lawmakers about how to create a response to the shootings that could pass Congress.
But on Thursday, Mr. Biden abandoned that approach, deciding instead to lay down a marker that will cement his legacy as a president who fought for tougher gun laws, successfully or not.
In his speech Thursday, Mr. Biden described the deep grief he felt when he and his wife spoke to the families of the victims of the two mass shootings.
“At both locations, we spent hours with hundreds of broken family members whose lives will never be the same,” he said. “They had a 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 more innocent American lives must be taken before we say: Enough. Enough.”
And he clarified the target of his comment, saying it’s now up to Congress to pass the far-reaching laws it has refused in the past.
“The question now is, what will Congress do? he said. The president said he supported efforts by the bipartisan group 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, accompanied by Mr. Biden, who was then Vice President, proposed a package of gun control measures, including: ensuring that all gun owners undergo background checks; improve state reporting of criminals and the mentally ill; banning assault weapons; and capping magazine capacity at 10 rounds.
Faced with Republican opposition, Mr. Obama dropped his demand for an assault weapons ban and a size limit for magazine excerpts. After months of pressure from Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden, the Senate rejected a bipartisan effort to expand background checks.
In scathing comments after the bill died, Mr. Obama mocked senators for deciding that children’s lives were not worth passing a law. A decade later, Mr. Obama’s grim assessment is a warning to Mr. Biden of what could happen again.
“Overall,” Mr. Obama said at the time, “it was a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Emily Cochrane, Catherine Edmondson and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.