President Biden on Thursday made an emotional appeal for ambitious new gun laws including a ban on military-style rifles, as lawmakers wrangled bitterly over how to prevent more bloodshed in America.
In an address to the nation, the president prodded Congress that “it is time to act” and repeatedly declared “enough” about the slaughters in schools and other mass shootings that have become all too routine in the U.S.
If Congress would not ban assault weapons outright, Mr. Biden said the least lawmakers could do would be to raise the age of purchase for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21.
Mr. Biden also urged lawmakers to expand background checks for gun purchases, change liability laws to allow gun manufacturers to be sued for shootings and make gun owners liable for not keeping their firearms locked up.
“This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights,” Mr. Biden insisted. “It’s about protecting children, about protecting families … It’s about protecting our freedom to go to school, to a grocery store, to a church without being shot and killed.”
He said the overwhelming majority of Americans support tougher gun laws and that, he hoped, voters would hold the lawmakers accountable.
“I believe the majority of you will act to turn your outrage into making this issue central to your vote,” he said.
Mr. Biden made his plea as the body count mounted.
The speech came a day after, according to authorities, a 45-year-old man upset with his surgeon returned to a Tulsa, Oklahoma, hospital and shot dead the doctor and three other people. It was less than a week after an 18-year-old man opened fire in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.
“This time we must actually do something,” Mr. Biden said. “The issue we face is of conscience and common sense.”
On Capitol Hill, however, the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to passing new gun laws came into sharper focus.
The debate between Democrats and Republicans devolved into trading insults and accusations as House Democrats convened an emergency hearing of the Judiciary Committee to push forward their package of six gun-control bills.
Democrats from Mr. Biden on down rejected without hesitation Republican proposals to harden security at schools, while the GOP scoffed at any move to further restrict firearm possession.
Rep. Mondaire Jones, New York Democrat, gave voice to his party’s frustration and issued what has become a routine threat to sweep aside the rules for the Senate and the Supreme Court to achieve gun-control goals.
“If the filibuster obstructs us, we will abolish it. If the Supreme Court objects, we will expand it,” he said. “We will not rest until we have taken weapons of war out of circulation in our communities.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans bristled at Democrats’ equating support for the Second Amendment with tolerating mass murder.
“You think we don’t have hearts,” said Rep. Louis Gohmert, Texas Republican. “We care about people. We care about their lives and lives that have been so trivialized. We care deeply … How dare you? You arrogant people attributing murder to those of us who want to do something to stop it.”
House Democrats named the package of gun legislation the Protecting Our Kids Act. It would raise the federal age of purchasing a rifle from 18 to 21; restrict ammunition magazine capacity, though existing magazines are “grandfathered” in; and require existing bump stocks to be registered and ban new bump stocks for civilian use.
It also would amend the definition of “ghost guns” to mandate background checks on all sales and create new requirements for firearm storage at home – specifically when minors are present.
The package is expected to pass the Democrat-run House but die in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
House Democrats are not bothered by that reality. They say the legislation will put public pressure on Republicans within the Senate to back some type of change to the nation’s gun laws.
However, Senate Democratic aides told The Washington Times that the fireworks in the House were more likely to sabotage any hope for a bipartisan compromise in the upper chamber.
The gun-control six-pack won’t be the last word on the issue from the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to bring forward an even more contentious ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles which gun-control advocates call “assault weapons.”
“Saving our children can and must be a unifying mission for our nation,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. “To all those in the Congress who would stand in the way of saving lives: your political survival is insignificant compared to the survival of our children.”
At the Judiciary hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said the Democrats’ gun bills were nothing but partisan messaging.
“This is not a real attempt, in my judgment, to find solutions,” he said. “What we’re [debating today] is designed to appeal to Democratic primary voters.
In the Senate, a bipartisan group of nine senators continued negotiation on an overhaul of gun and public safety laws that could pass.
They are looking for a deal on expanding background checks for gun purchases and incentivizing states to adopt “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement to remove firearms from people determined by a court to be a danger.
A deal will require the support of at least 10 GOP senators for the legislation to survive a filibuster. And any gun bill will face long odds given pressure from gun-rights groups and the high stakes of passing gun laws in an election year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that any legislation responding to the Texas school shooting should be targeted at the problems exposed by the massacre.
“It seems to me there are two broad categories that underscore the problem — mental illness and school safety,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican.