President Joe Biden somberly reflected on the United States’ exceptional gun violence problem Thursday, calling it an “international embarrassment” as he revealed his first executive actions on the issue.
Biden’s suite of actions task the Justice Department with limiting the proliferation of guns, as well as nominating a permanent head of the federal agency charged with battling illegal gun trafficking for the first time in years.
“The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character,” Biden said from the White House Rose Garden.
Several people affected by gun violence attended Biden’s remarks, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head during a 2011 mass shooting; survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016; and parents of children killed in mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
The executive actions follow recent mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia, the latter of which largely targeted Asian American women.
But Biden emphasized that mass shootings are only one part of the problem.
“You probably didn’t hear it, but between those two incidents, less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings … that took the lives of more than 250 people and left 500 … injured,” he said. “This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop.”
This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop. President Joe Biden
Those recent shootings increased pressure on Biden to act on the matter, as groups working to prevent gun violence were already frustrated that his initial blitz of executive orders in January did not include any on gun control.
The president acknowledged that his proposed actions are modest, as the bigger changes he wants to see ― banning assault weapons, closing loopholes in firearm background checks and removing gun manufacturers protections from lawsuits ― require action from Congress. Democrats have a slim majority, but their ability to act is limited by current filibuster rules.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Biden said. “It seems like we always have a long way to go.”
Biden is also calling on the Justice Department to crack down on kits to assemble a firearm from pieces with no serial numbers, known as ghost guns. His rule would legally classify the kits as firearms, which would require the pieces to have serial numbers and subject buyers to background checks.
“I know that the conversation about guns in this country can be a difficult one,” Biden said. “But even here, there’s much more common ground than anyone would believe. … Everything that’s been proposed today is totally consistent with the Second Amendment.”
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