Biden, Dems Push Ban on Assault Weapons11/26 09:14
When President Joe Biden speaks about the "scourge" of gun violence, his
go-to answer is to zero in on so-called assault weapons.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When President Joe Biden speaks about the "scourge" of
gun violence, his go-to answer is to zero in on so-called assault weapons.
America has heard it hundreds of times, including this week after shootings
in Colorado and Virginia: The president wants to sign into law a ban on
high-powered guns that have the capacity to kill many people very quickly.
"The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick.
Just sick," Biden said on Thanksgiving Day. "I'm going to try to get rid of
After the mass killing last Saturday at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs,
he said in a statement: "When will we decide we've had enough? ... We need to
enact an assault weapons ban to get weapons of war off America's streets."
When Biden and other lawmakers talk about "assault weapons," they are using
an inexact term to describe a group of high-powered guns or semi-automatic long
rifles, like an AR-15, that can fire 30 rounds fast without reloading. By
comparison, New York Police Department officers carry a handgun that shoots
about half that much.
A weapons ban is far off in a closely divided Congress. But Biden and the
Democrats have become increasingly emboldened in pushing for stronger gun
controls -- and doing so with no clear electoral consequences.
The Democratic-led House passed legislation in July to revive a 1990s-era
ban on "assault weapons," with Biden's vocal support. And the president pushed
a ban nearly everywhere that he campaigned this year.
Still, in the midterm elections, Democrats kept control of the Senate and
Republicans were only able to claim the slimmest House majority in two decades.
The tough talk follows passage in June of a landmark bipartisan bill on gun
laws, and it reflects steady progress that gun control advocates have been
making in recent years.
"I think the American public has been waiting for this message," said Sen.
Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been the Senate's leading advocate for stronger
gun control since the massacre of 20 children at a school in Newtown,
Connecticut in 2012. "There has been a thirst from voters, especially swing
voters, young voters, parents, to hear candidates talk about gun violence, and
I think Democrats are finally sort of catching up with where the public has
Just over half of voters want to see nationwide gun policy made more strict,
according to AP VoteCast, an extensive survey of more than 94,000 voters
nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of
Chicago. About 3 in 10 want gun policy kept as is. Only 14% prefer looser gun
There are clear partisan divides. About 9 in 10 Democrats want stricter gun
laws, compared with about 3 in 10 Republicans. About half of Republicans want
gun laws left as they are and only one-quarter want to see gun laws be made
Once banned in the United States, the high-powered firearms are now the
weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating
mass shootings. Congress allowed the restrictions first put in place in 1994 on
the manufacture and sales of the weapons to expire a decade later, unable to
muster the political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate
the weapons ban.
When he was governor of Florida, current Republican Sen. Rick Scott signed
gun control laws in the wake of mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School and a night club in Orlando. But he has consistently opposed weapons
bans, arguing like many of his Republican colleagues that most gun owners use
"People are doing the right thing, why would we take away their weapons?"
Scott asked as the Senate was negotiating gun legislation last summer. "It
doesn't make any sense."
He said more mental health counseling, assessments of troubled students and
law enforcement on campus make more sense.
"Let's focus on things that actually would change something," Scott said.
Law enforcement officials have long called for stricter gun laws, arguing
that the availability of these weapons makes people less safe and makes their
jobs more dangerous.
Mike Moore, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, the country's
third-largest, said it just makes sense to talk about guns when gun violence is
rising nationwide, and consider what the government can do to make the streets
safer. He is grateful Biden is bringing it up so much.
"This isn't a one-and-done," Moore said of the shooting in Colorado Springs.
"These things are evolving all the time, in other cities, at any moment another
incident happens. It's crying out for the federal government, for our
legislators, to go out and make this change," he said.
On Tuesday, six people were shot dead at a Walmart in Virginia. Over the
past six months there has been a supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York; a
massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas; and the July Fourth killing of
revelers in Highland Park, Illinois.
The legislation that Biden signed in June will, among other things, help
states put in place "red flag" laws that make it easier for authorities to take
weapons from people judged to be dangerous.
But a ban was never on the table.
A 60-vote threshold in the Senate means some Republicans must be on board.
Most are are steadfastly opposed, arguing it would be too complicated,
especially as sales and varieties of the firearms have proliferated. There are
many more types of these high-powered guns today than in 1994, when the ban was
signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
"I'd rather not try to define a whole group of guns as being no longer
available to the American public," said Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South
Dakota, who is a hunter and owns several guns, some of them passed down through
his family. "For those of us who have grown up with guns as part of our
culture, and we use them as tools -- there's millions of us, there's hundreds
of millions of us -- that use them lawfully."
In many states where the bans have been enacted, the restrictions are being
challenged in court, gaining strength from a Supreme Court ruling in June
expanding gun rights.
"We feel pretty confident, even despite the arguments made by the other
side, that history and tradition as well as the text of the Second Amendment
are on our side," said David Warrington, chairman and general counsel for the
National Association for Gun Rights.
Biden was instrumental in helping secure the 1990s ban as a senator. The
White House said that while it was in place, mass shootings declined, and when
it expired in 2004, shootings tripled.
The reality is complicated. The data on the effectiveness is mixed and there
is a sense that other measures that are not as politically fraught might
actually be more effective, said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor
at the State University of New York-Cortland and author of "The Politics of Gun
Politically, the ban sparked a backlash, even though the final law was a
compromise version of the initial bill, he said.
"The gun community was furious," Spitzer said.
The ban has been blamed in some circles for the Democrats losing control of
Congress in 1994, though subsequent research has shown that the loss was likely
more about strong, well-funded conservative candidates and district boundaries,
Still, after Democrat Al Gore, who supported stricter gun laws, lost the
2000 White House race to Republican George W. Bush, Democrats largely backed
off the issue until the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Even after that, it was
not a campaign topic until the 2018 midterms.
Now, gun control advocates see progress.
"The fact that the American people elected a president who has long been a
vocal and steadfast supporter of bold gun safety laws -- and recently reelected
a gun sense majority to the Senate -- says everything you need to know about
how dramatically the politics on this issue have shifted," said John Feinblatt,
president of Everytown for Gun Safety.