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Biden has made 70 unanswered pleas to Congress to ban assault weapons

The president concedes he ‘can’t do anything’ without legislation after his executive actions, but House Republicans are unlikely to ban high-powered firearms in the wake of another mass shooting

Andrew Feinberg,Alex Woodward
Wednesday 29 March 2023 16:05 BST
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Biden calls on Congress to pass assault weapons ban after 'sick' Nashville school shooting

President Joe Biden has acknowledged the uphill battle any attempt to pass new, stronger gun laws would face on Capitol Hill, even after yet another mass shooting at an American school claimed six lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

He told reporters on 28 March that his administration’s executive actions to date have reached the limits of what he can do as president, absent any legislative action from Congress.

“I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do, on my own, anything about guns,” said Mr Biden, who added that the legislative branch “needs to act” if the US is to have any new laws governing the availability of firearms, particularly the military-style rifles that have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters in recent years.

“The majority of the American people think having assault weapons is bizarre. It’s a crazy idea. They’re against that. And so, I think the Congress should be passing the assault weapons ban,” he added.

It’s a demand he has given lawmakers dozens of times since entering office in 2021. Within his first two years in office, there have been roughly 1,400 mass shootings.

He has referenced a federal ban on assault weapons, called on Congress to renew an assault weapons ban or pledged that his Democratic allies will do so roughly 70 times since entering office, according to The Independent’s review of his public statements and remarks via Factba.se.

On 27 March, a heavily armed assailaint carrying two assault-style rifles and a handgun fatally shot three children and three employees inside a Nashville school.

That afternoon, the president once again called on a divided Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, saying that it’s “about time that we began to make some more progress.”

Weeks earlier, upon signing an executive order to expand bipartisan gun reform legislation he signed into law last year, he told Congress to “finish the job” and “ban assault rifles.”

During his State of the Union address before Congress weeks before that, he urged lawmakers to “ban assault weapons once and for all.”

“What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?” he said in remarks after the massacre of 19 children and two teachers inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last year.

“It’s just sick,” he added. “And the gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons which make them the most and largest profit. For God’s sake, we have to have the courage to stand up to the industry.”

The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, known as the federal assault weapons ban, was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, with several failed attempts in Congress to renew the ban after a series of massacres involving high-powered rifles that were previously impacted by the law.

The president, who was then a senator from Delaware, played a major role in passage of the 1994 legislation as part of that year’s massive anti-crime package enacted by then-President Bill Clinton.

A study from Northwestern University found that the ban prevented 11 public mass shootings within the decade it was in effect. The study also estimates that keeping the ban in place until 2019 would have prevented 30 public shootings that killed 339 and injured 1,139 people.

Last year, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives narrowly voted to renew the ban, which stalled in an evenly divided Senate.

Since taking office, Mr Biden has had more success in enacting new gun safety legislation than any president since Clinton’s two terms in the 1990s. Last year, the president signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the “most significant gun safety law in almost 30 years,” according to Mr Biden.

That measure clarifies licensing requirements for firearms dealers and laid out enhanced background check requirements for gun purchases, including a review of juvenile records for anyone 16 years of age or older who attempts to purchase a firearm.

His executive order announced on 14 March will “accelerate and intensify” the administration’s work to combat the proliferation of high-powered weapons and illegal guns “to save more lives, more quickly,” Mr Biden said.

Though Mr Biden has had some success in enacting gun safety laws, what he has done hasn’t gone as far as that 1994 bill went. A majority of Americans support believe laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, according to 2022 polling from Gallup.

But with Republicans – who are dead set against such measures – in control of the House of Representatives, and a de facto 60-vote threshold for any legislative action on any matter in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it is unlikely that Congress will make any progress towards any new laws that would restrict the availability of firearms in the United States.

“How many more children have have to be murdered before Republicans in Congress will step up and act to pass the assault weapons ban, to close loopholes in our background check system, or to require the safe storage of guns,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said from the briefing room on 27 March.

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