President Biden strongly supported tougher gun laws on Friday, saying American children caught up in school shootings suffer the same trauma as soldiers in war.
Speaking at a gun safety summit in Hartford, Connecticut attended by victims of gun violence, Biden marked one year since the passage of a bipartisan bill meant to prevent dangerous people from accessing guns. But she said there was more to it.
“What is the difference between the PTSD a soldier encounters in the hills of Afghanistan,” Biden asked, and the kind of trauma “a fourth grader encounters in a classroom when he has to duck and cover himself?”
Biden’s call to action comes at a time of deep pessimism about the prospects for meaningful legislative action on gun control despite one mass shooting after another in the United States.
Even with majorities in both houses of Congress during Biden’s first two years in office, Democrats could not pass a ban on assault weapons. Any effort now is almost certain to fail in the Republican-controlled House, as the party has largely united against new gun control measures.
But Mr. Biden said on Friday that Congress must find a way to tighten the laws.
« If this Congress refuses to act, » Biden said, « we need a new Congress. »
A year ago, a bipartisan group of lawmakers struck a tight compromise, galvanized by a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The bill expanded background checks for gun buyers and set aside millions of dollars so states could pay for intervention programs, such as mental health and drug courts, and implement flag laws flag that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from any person found by a judge to be too dangerous to own.
Mr. Biden said Friday that the Justice Department has provided more than $230 million to states to expand such laws, and the Department of Health and Human Services has also provided more than $1.5 billion to states to hire 14,000 mental health professionals for schools.
Mr Biden said the legislation was already having an effect on violent crime in America but called it merely a « first step ».
The nonpartisan Criminal Justice Council looked at trends in 35 cities and found that homicides, gun assaults and domestic violence reports were down slightly in 2022 compared to the previous year. The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks gun violence using police reports, news coverage and other public sources, counted more than 260 mass shootings at the end of May. Last year, the group counted 647 mass shootings, which it defines as incidents in which at least four people were killed or injured.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve met people at events around the country who shake my hand and say, ‘I’m concerned that there’s been another shooting not far from where I live. I’m scared to send my child to school,’” Biden said. « It had a profound impact. »
Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control organization founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said gun control is a major issue as the 2024 campaign heats up.
“I think the White House realizes how important this issue is to the American public and is drawing a contrast between who delivers on this issue, Joe Biden and the Democrats, and who doesn’t,” Ambler said.
Mr. Biden said in March that he had « used all of my executive authority to do anything about guns by myself, » and added that the onus was on Congress to take action. Karine Jean-Pierre, a White House press secretary, left open this week the possibility that the White House could take further action, but she did not provide details.
“We will always try to figure out what else we can do to protect communities,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. « So that’s something we’re — that our team will definitely look into. »