What President Joe Biden's Call to Ban Assault Weapons Means

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Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch - Getty Images

This week, after what has been a deadly few months in the United States, President Joe Biden called for a ban on assault weapons.

In an address at the White House last night, the president asked Congress to pass several gun control measures, including stricter background checks for potential gun owners and "red flag" laws for people exhibiting violent tendencies.

Biden said he and First Lady Jill Biden visited the memorial in Uvalde, Texas, last week, after a teenage gunman killed 19 third and fourth graders and two teachers. "We stood at such a place just 12 days before, across from a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, memorializing 10 fellow Americans—a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, gone forever. At both places, we spent hours with hundreds of family members who were broken and whose lives will never be the same. They had one message for all of us: Do something. Just do something. For God's sake, do something," Biden said, recalling the Buffalo shooting on May 14.

On Wednesday, days after the Uvalde tragedy, a man opened fire inside a Tulsa medical center, killing four people.

In 2022 alone, there have been more than 200 mass shootings (defined as a homicide incident in which four or more people are injured or killed), per the Washington Post—not a single week has passed without at least four mass shootings.

"After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing has been done. This time, that can't be true. This time, we must actually do something. The issue we face is one of conscience and common sense," Biden said.

Speaking to Republicans and others who have already accused him of wanting to take their guns, Biden clarified that that is not the goal. "This is not about taking away anyone's guns. It's not about vilifying gun owners. In fact, we believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave," he said.

Still, he said, the Second Amendment has never been unlimited, and some limitations for owning firearms have always been in place.

"I respect the culture and the tradition and the concerns of lawful gun owners. At the same time, the Second Amendment, like all other rights, is not absolute," he said. "There have always been limitations on what weapons you can own in America. For example, machine guns have been federally regulated for nearly 90 years. And this is still a free country. This isn't about taking away anyone's rights. It's about protecting children. It's about protecting families. It's about protecting whole communities. It's about protecting our freedoms to go to school, to a grocery store, to a church without being shot and killed."

The president then cited new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which state that over the last two decades, more children in the United States have been killed by guns than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined.

"Think about that. More kids than on-duty cops killed by guns. More kids than soldiers killed by guns. For God's sake. How much more carnage are we willing to accept? How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say enough? Enough," Biden said.

The president also urged Republicans and gun owners to see the benefits of his proposal and support enacting new laws to help communities feel safe again.

"Nine categories of semiautomatic weapons were included in that ban, like AK-47s and AR-15s. And in the 10 years it was law, mass shootings went down. But after Republicans let the law expire in 2004, and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled. Those are the facts," Biden said.

What he proposes:

  • Ban assault weapons, or at least raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.

  • Ban high-capacity magazines by reinstating the assault weapons ban on them that was passed in 1994.

  • Strengthen the background checks on potential gun owners.

  • Enact safe storage laws and hold people accountable for not locking up their guns. ("If you own a weapon, you have a responsibility to secure it—every responsible gun owner agrees. To make sure no one else can have access to it, to lock it up, to have trigger locks. And if you don't, and something bad happens, you should be held responsible," Biden said.)

  • Enact red flag laws so that parents, teachers, or counselors can flag that a child, a student, or a patient is exhibiting violent tendencies, threatening classmates, or experiencing suicidal thoughts.

  • Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability. ("They're the only industry in this country that has that kind of immunity," Biden said.)

  • "Address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma of gun violence, and as a consequence of that violence" by providing more school counselors, school nurses, mentors, more mental health services for students and teachers, and more privacy protection and resources to keep kids safe from the harms social media can cause.

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