Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to “end” America’s gun violence epidemic. On Saturday, a racially motivated shooting at Buffalo’s grocery store that left 10 dead and three others injured in New York highlights just how far the nation and Biden are from achieving 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. Authorities claim that Gendron used a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle, which had been modified to store high capacity magazines. This ammunition can hold up to ten times more.
Biden called for Congress to adopt legislation that would require background checks on all gun sales and ban firearms without serial numbers. He also asked Congress to block assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from being sold and remove liability protections for gun makers. But so far Biden’s failed to muster the votes to get any of that passed.
Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy stated Sunday that Congress must vote on legislation regarding background checks, high-capacity magazines, and expanding background checks in light of the Buffalo shooting. “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?”
Biden used his presidency to create more regulations about illegal weapons and to direct law enforcement officials to look into 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. Biden, a Senator representing Delaware was instrumental in getting these passed. Biden helped to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993. This law established a background-check system for handguns. Biden and Senator Dianne Feinstein signed into law in 1994 a ban of assault weapons and high capacity magazines for a period of 10 years. In 2004, Congress let the law expire.
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. It took us five years to pass Brady’s bill, and even longer to reach agreement on 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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