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Biden renews calls for Congress to ‘stand up’ to gun lobby after Texas school shooting

Reports of at least 18 elementary students killed provoked familiar visceral responses on Capitol Hill

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, as first lady Jill Biden looks on, about the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school Tuesday.
President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, as first lady Jill Biden looks on, about the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school Tuesday. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

No sooner than President Joe Biden had returned home from Asia, he was speaking to the country Tuesday as mourner-in-chief after another mass shooting.

“As a nation we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name do we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Biden said, before listing a series of mass shootings at schools and elsewhere over the last decade.

“I am sick and tired, we have to act,” Biden said. “Don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.”

The president said he recognized that enacting gun laws would not stop all gun violence, but he highlighted the reduction in mass shootings in the aftermath of the enactment of the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

“It’s time to turn this pain into action,” the president said. “For every parent, for every citizen in this country, we have to make it clear to every elected official in this country: It’s time to act. It’s time for those who obstruct or delay or block the common sense gun laws, we need to let you know that we will not forget.”

Biden’s remarks at the White House came after at least least 18 children were killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Even before Air Force One landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after the president’s trip to South Korea and Japan, events back home had forced Biden’s focus back to his country’s epidemic of gun-related crime.

Tuesday’s mass shooting, the largest at an elementary school since the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, back in 2012 when Biden was vice president, brought back to center stage the endless debate on how to reduce gun violence.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., said it “makes no sense at all why we can’t do common sense, common sense things and try and prevent some of this from happening.”

Manchin has been the lead Democratic sponsor of a firearm purchase background check measure with Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey that has been perhaps the closest to Senate passage in recent memory. But it only got to 54 votes in 2013, well short of the 60 needed to break a legislative filibuster.

Manchin has long opposed doing away with the filibuster protections, and when pressed on whether he would agree to set aside Senate filibuster rules for gun legislation, Machin responded that the process that sets a 60-vote threshold for floor consideration of bills “prevents us from total insanity.”

After yet another impassioned floor speech after yet another mass shooting, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy told reporters he continued to be open to compromise legislation. But Murphy said he was not interested in a discussion that focused only on the mental health aspects of the debate over firearms.

“Guns flow in this country like water, and that’s why we have mass shooting after mass shooting, and, you know, spare me the bullshit about mental illness,” Murphy said. “We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world. You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because … we’re not an outlier on mental illness, we’re an outlier when it comes to access to firearms and the ability of criminals and very sick people to get their hands on firearms. That’s what makes America different.”

And fellow Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that he could only imagine the grief and pain of Sandy Hook families at the news from Texas. But the “rest of us should also feel anger and outrage that America namely, the Congress of the United States has been complicit in this bloodshed, by its inaction,” Blumenthal said.

Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, was among those focused on prevention Tuesday, also referencing the May 14 mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in western New York.

“Just like the Buffalo shooting, we have got to do a better job of anticipating and avoiding these, because if all you do is focus on controlling weapons, people like this will find other ways to harm people,” Tillis said. “I’m happy to look at anything as long as it doesn’t deny anybody rights for law abiding citizens. I’ve been there all along and I’ve been wanting to have those discussions, and will continue to.”

California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, the chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce, in a statement blamed “gutless” Republicans for refusing to allow Senate votes on gun violence prevention legislation.

“We cannot allow yet another tragedy go by without taking action to pass commonsense measures that save lives like my bill, the bipartisan Background Checks Act,” Thompson said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough, and gutless politicians that have opposed life-saving measures in the past must step up and help us end gun violence.”

The House voted 227-203 in March 2021 to pass that legislation, H.R. 8, which would expand background checks for gun sales. In December, in the wake of a school shooting in Michigan, Murphy asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to vote on the bill.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley objected, and pointed to the Republican version of legislation on background checks, a version of which previously did not pass the Senate in 2013.

The House-passed bill “is hostile toward lawful gun owners and lawful firearm transactions. This will not solve the problems that it seeks to solve,” the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee said as he objected to Murphy’s request.

Far from the Capitol, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was calling out the Senate’s inaction, and in particular GOP opposition to the House-passed background checks measure.

“We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to put it to a vote despite what we the American people want,” Kerr said at a pre-game news conference ahead of game four of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals in Dallas. “They won’t vote on it because they want to hold on to their own power. It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough.”

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