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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“Even before the pandemic, people were already hurting. There’s a serious mental health crisis in this country…”
“The House of Representatives already passed key measures we need, expanding background checks to cover nearly all gun sales.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.