© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 154th National Memorial Day Wreath-Laying and Observance ceremony to honor America’s fallen, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, U.S., May 30, 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Declaring “Enough, enough!” U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday urged Congress to ban assault weapons, expand background checks and implement other sensible gun control measures to address a string of mass shootings that have struck the United States.
Speaking from the White House, in a speech broadcast live in primetime, Biden asked a country stunned by the recent shootings of school children in Texas, at a medical building in Oklahoma and at a Buffalo, New York, grocery story how much it would take to change gun laws in America.
“For God’s sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden asked.
The president, a Democrat, called for a number of measures historically opposed by Republicans in Congress, including banning the sale of assault weapons, or, if that were not possible, raising the minimum age to buy those weapons to 21 from 18, and repealing the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers from being sued for violence perpetrated by people carrying their guns.
“We can’t fail the American people again,” Biden said, pressing Republicans to allow bills with gun control measures to come up for a vote.
The United States, which has a higher rate of gun deaths than any other wealthy nation, has been shaken in recent weeks by the high-profile mass shootings at a grocery story in upstate New York, an elementary school in Texas that killed 19 children, and a medical building in Oklahoma.
Lawmakers are looking at measures to expand background checks and pass “red flag” laws that would allow law enforcement officials to take guns away from people suffering from mental illness. But any new measures face steep hurdles from Republicans, particularly in the U.S. Senate, and moves to ban assault weapons do not have enough support to advance.
Despite the political challenges, Biden urged Congress to act.
“After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing has been done,” Biden said, listing high-profile mass shootings over the past decade. “This time that can’t be true.”
Gun safety advocates have pushed Biden to take stronger measures on his own to curb gun violence, but the White House wants Congress to pass legislation that would have more lasting impact than any presidential order.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee on Thursday was working on a bill aimed at toughening national gun laws, though the measure has little chance of passing the Senate.
Biden’s evening address was aimed in part at keeping the issue at the forefront of voters’ minds. The president has made only a handful of evening speeches from the White House during his term, including one on the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and one about the Texas shooting last week.
More than 18,000 people have died from gun violence in the United States so far in 2022, including through homicide and suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.
Canada, Australia and Britain all passed stricter gun laws after mass shootings in their countries, banning assault weapons and increasing background checks. America has experienced two decades of massacres in schools, stores and places of work and worship without any such legislation.
A broad majority of American voters, both Republicans and Democrats, favor stronger gun control laws, but Republicans in Congress and some moderate Democrats have blocked such legislation for years.
Prices of shares in gun manufacturers rose on Thursday. Efforts to advance gun control measures have boosted firearm share prices after other mass shootings as investors anticipated that gun purchases would increase ahead of stricter regulations.
In the aftermath of the Texas shooting, Biden urged the country to take on the powerful pro-gun lobby that backs politicians who oppose such legislation.
The Senate is split, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, and a law must have 60 votes to overcome a maneuver known as the filibuster, which means any law would need rare bipartisan support.
“The only room in America where you can’t find more than 60% support for universal background checks is on the floor of the U.S. Senate,” said Christian Heyne, vice president for policy at Brady, a gun violence prevention group.
Advocates have expressed cautious optimism that lawmakers will coalesce around some gun control measures. If not, they plan to make it a rallying cry in the November midterm elections.
While Biden and Congress explore compromises, the Supreme Court is due to decide a major case that could undermine new efforts to enact gun control measures while making existing ones vulnerable to legal attack.