Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to “end” America’s gun violence epidemic. The racially-motivated shooting that killed 10 people and injured three at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York on Saturday highlights how far he and the country are from fulfilling that goal.
Speaking in front of the Capitol Building on Sunday, Biden described the Buffalo shooter as being “armed with weapons of war and a hate-filled soul.”
“We’re still gathering the facts, but already the Justice Department has stated publicly that it is investigating the matter as a hate crime, a racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism,” Biden said. “As they do, we must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America. Our hearts are heavy once again, but our resolve must never, ever waver.”
For much of his career, Biden has tried—and largely failed—to restrict access to the types of weapons that 18-year-old suspected gunman Payton Gendron allegedly used in his shooting spree at Tops Friendly Market store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. Gendron allegedly fired a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle which was modified to hold high capacity magazines that hold more ammunition, according to authorities.
Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation to require background checks for all gun sales, ban possession of firearms without serial numbers, block the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and strip away liability protections from gun manufacturers. But so far Biden’s failed to muster the votes to get any of that passed.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Sunday that in the wake of the Buffalo shooting Congress should hold a vote on legislation to expand background checks and limit high-capacity magazines. “It may be that we have to put a vote up in the Senate or in the House to show the American people where folks stand,” Murphy said on MSNBC. “I mean, why on earth do you need a 30 round magazine, or 100 round drum of ammunition to protect your home or to shoot for sport?”
In the absence of congressional action, Biden has used his powers as President to issue more rules on what defines an illegal weapon and direct law enforcement to investigate illegal gun sales. In April, the Justice Department broadened the definition of firearm to include so-called “ghost guns,” and banned the manufacturing and selling of gun kits without serial numbers. The Justice Department has stood up new gun trafficking “strike forces” to investigate illegal gun runners, and Biden directed cities to use American Rescue Plan funding to put more police on the streets to reduce gun violence.
“President Biden was right to say after Buffalo that we must tackle domestic terrorism that is driven by hate, but we won’t get there by ignoring the obvious. We have too many guns and they are too easy to get in this country,” Igor Volksy, executive director of Guns Down America, an organization calling for fewer guns in the country, said in a statement. “There have been more than 800 mass shootings since President Biden took office and we still do not have an office of gun violence prevention, nor a plan to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines from this administration.”
It’s been nearly 30 years since Congress has passed meaningful new limits on gun ownership. When he was a senator representing Delaware, Biden was central to getting those passed. In 1993, Biden helped pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act which established a background check system for handguns. In 1994, Biden and Sen. Dianne Feinstein ushered into law a 10-year ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Congress allowed that law to expire in 2004.
Standing in the Rose Garden with Attorney General Merrick Garland on April 8 to announce new steps his Administration had taken to address the gun crisis, Biden acknowledged that “we got a long way to go.”
“I know it’s painful and frustrating that we haven’t made the progress that we’d hoped for. But it took five years to get the Brady bill passed, and it took even more years to work to pass the assault weapons ban. And it saved lives,” Biden said. “We’re not going to give up.”
The shooting in Buffalo and another mass shooting in a Southern California church over the weekend have added urgency to Biden’s mission. Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Buffalo on Tuesday, said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, to “grieve with the community that lost ten lives in a senseless and horrific mass shooting.”
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