Biden’s Gun Speech

In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, President Biden delivered a national address urging Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Photo:
ABC News
Jonathan Good
Leans Left
Stephen Webber
Leans Right

In the aftermath of the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, elected officials have grappled with numerous policy responses. Republicans have primarily focused on mental health issues and school security, while Democrats have argued that the prevalence of guns and ease of acquiring them are to blame. On Thursday, President Biden took to the airwaves in a rare prime-time address to argue the Democrats’ case to the nation and call for Congress to enact stricter gun regulations.

Policy Proposals

Assault Weapons and Magazines. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the federal assault weapons ban, prohibiting the “manufacture, transfer, or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapon” and magazines that could carry more than 10 bullets (sometimes called high-capacity magazines). It did not outright ban all semiautomatic weapons, as many manufacturers and stores still sold modified firearms that abided by the law’s specifications. The ban included a 10-year “sunset provision,” meaning Congress would have to reauthorize it; instead, they allowed it to expire. In his speech, Biden implored Congress to restore this legislation, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. However, the President said if lawmakers could not agree to reinstate the ban, they should raise the minimum purchase age for these weapons from 18 to 21.

Strengthen Background Checks. The Brady Handgun Prevention Act of 1993 requires federally licensed firearms dealers (known as FFLs) to run a customer’s information through a national database before selling them a gun. That system ensures the buyer does not have a criminal record or mental health issues that would render them ineligible to own a firearm. However, FFLs can sell guns through a “default proceed” if the background check takes longer than three days to prevent government officials from intentionally backlogging the system. Not all gun sales go through FFLs, since the government cannot monitor private sales. 

Democrats say these are clear loopholes. They claim the three-day deadline allows some ineligible buyers to slip through the cracks and argue federal law permits unregulated sales at gun shows and online. While the House passed a pair of bills last year that Democrats said addressed these concerns (H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446), the legislation was essentially dead-on-arrival in the Senate. On Thursday, the President reaffirmed his support for these changes.

Safe Storage Laws. Generally, “safe storage” refers to locking guns in a safe or using a safety device when the firearm is not in active use. Currently, no federal law requires “safe” gun storage. However, gun importers, manufacturers, and dealers must include storage or safety devices with most handguns. Biden said Congress should enact “safe storage laws and personal liability for not locking up your gun.” Republicans argue this would undermine the Second Amendment and self-defense and say firearms need to be readily available to defend oneself.

“Red Flag” Laws. Red-flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), allow specific individuals — typically law enforcement or people close to the person being flagged — to ask a court to temporarily seize someone’s firearms. President Biden called for a federal red-flag law that would allow “a parent, a teacher, [or] counselor” to alert a court when “a child, a student, [or] patient is exhibiting violent tendencies, threatening classmates, or experiencing suicidal thoughts that makes them a danger to themselves or to others.”

Repeal Gun Manufacturer Immunity. Federal liability shields prevent most lawsuits against gun and ammunition manufacturers or dealers for “criminal or unlawful” use of their products. On Thursday, the President claimed the gun industry is the only one in America with this immunity and called for Congress to repeal it. Biden’s claim is partially true: while gun manufacturers do enjoy relatively extensive legal protections, many industries do. President Biden pointed to the litigation tobacco companies have faced over the health problems associated with their products, questioning how America would be if they had similar exemptions.

Mental Health Crisis. In the aftermath of shootings, many Republican officials point to mental health as a source of American gun violence. During his address, Biden echoed that sentiment, saying, “there is a serious youth mental health crisis in this country, and we have to do something about it.” He called for Congress to allocate more resources to mental health services in schools, including additional school counselors. 

Response

Republican Response. While a handful of Republican politicians expressed openness to some of the President’s policy proposals (see Governor Asa Hutchinson and some House members), the overwhelming GOP response was negative. Many conservative commentators characterized the speech as an attack on the Second Amendment, suggesting that Democrats want to confiscate Americans’ guns. Some even suggested that Congress impeach the President because he does not “respect the Constitution.” Other Republicans, including Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, urged his colleagues to reject any gun legislation, saying that voting for the proposals would betray their constituents and violate law-abiding citizens’ rights. Conservative lawmakers have proposed other solutions to these shootings, including increased investments in school security and repealing gun-free school zones.

House Action. House Democrats, meanwhile, have considered a wide range of policy responses to the Uvalde shooting. Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) informed fellow Democrats that the House will hold votes on three gun proposals and a hearing on a federal assault weapons ban. The largest of these, the Protecting Our Children Act, is an omnibus package consisting of eight gun reform bills, such as ones imposing stricter gun storage requirements and banning high-capacity magazines and bump stocks for civilian use. Last week, 21 House Democrats urged the leadership to split the Act back into individual bills, claiming bipartisan support would be easier to garner separately. That legislation is almost certainly doomed to failure in the Senate amid widespread Republican opposition.

Chance of Success. In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has led bipartisan gun policy negotiations with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) — who helped author one of the only gun-related laws in the last decade. The ongoing negotiations reportedly include: enacting a red-flag law or incentivizing states to enact their own, raising the minimum purchase age for weapons, and more federal funding for school security and mental health services. While Biden has lent his support to the talks, and participating lawmakers have repeatedly expressed cautious optimism that they can reach a compromise, sweeping gun reform is unlikely given the Senate’s filibuster hurdle. In an interview yesterday, Murphy said that any deal would likely be “modest but impactful” and would not include an assault weapons ban or “comprehensive” background checks. Even with the bipartisan talks, the group could ultimately fail to produce any gun legislation, as similar discussions have fallen through in the past.

Left Narrative

President Biden laid out a commonsense gun agenda that the overwhelming majority of Americans support. As he said, it’s time to act. While he has taken meaningful action through executive orders, significant reform can come only from the legislature. Congress must pass his proposals to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country. These constitutional, life-saving measures respect responsible gun owners while targeting the source of these shootings. We must elect more gun control advocates and continue to put pressure on Republicans to grow a spine and stand up to the gun lobby.

Left-Lean Narrative

Right-Lean Narrative

Right Narrative

The Left just wants to “do something,” even if that something will only restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens and fail to stop more tragedies. They are passing laws that don’t work. For example, assault weapons are ill-defined and only ban the aesthetics of guns. Background checks and red-flag laws already exist but consistently fail to prevent shootings. Meanwhile, storage laws hamper self-defense since criminals usually don’t wait for someone to open a safe before attacking them. Lastly, the Democrats are looking to redefine high-capacity to only 10 rounds, although self-defense specialists recommend more. The only solution ignored by Democrats offers the most promise: armed security at schools and increased access to mental health resources.

Questions & Answers

Reading Comprehension

Have your students take a reading comprehension quiz to see how well they understood the article and different opinions.

Launch Activity

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the best way for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate legislation with each other?
  2. If you were in the Senate, how would you encourage negotiations between Democrats and Republicans? Explain your answer.
  3. If you were a Senator, what legislation would you create to prevent future gun violence? Explain your answer.
  4. Is there anything Democrats and Republicans should be doing differently? Why or why not?
  5. Did Biden’s remarks give you hope for the future of the United States? Explain your answer.

Current Events in this story

Check out these current event pages for history, narratives, activities, and more:

Accompanying Content

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