Biden calls for ban on assault weapons: 'This time we must actually do something'

A string of deadly shootings continued with one in Oklahoma on Wednesday.

June 2, 2022, 8:28 PM

As mass shootings continue to rock the nation, President Joe Biden delivered prime-time remarks on guns Thursday evening, imploring the nation to "For God's sake, do something."

Rows of illuminated white candles lined the carpet of the White House Cross Hall as Biden called on lawmakers to take action, listing off reforms he'd like to see passed to curb gun violence.

"We need to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. And if we can't ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21, strengthen background checks, enact safe storage laws and red flag laws. Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability, address the mental health crisis," he said in an impassioned address.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the White House in Washington, June 2, 2022.
Pool/ABC News

The latest mass shooting on Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaving four dead, follows a massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as well as an apparently racially-motivated attack at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, leaving 10 Black people dead.

"We spent hours with hundreds of family members who were broken, whose lives will never be the same," Biden said. "They had one message for all of us. Do something. Just do something ... After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing has been done. This time that can't be true. This time we must do something."

Biden took the national spotlight amid questions over why he has not yet lobbied lawmakers personally and more forcefully as negotiations continue.

The president said he supports the bipartisan effort, but described stiff Republican opposition as a major roadblock. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Ted Cruz and other GOP figures have made the case that mental illness and school security are the problems underscoring these shootings, not guns.

"The fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don't want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote I find unconscionable," he said. "We can't fail the American people again."

"This isn't about taking anyone's rights. It's about protecting children," he added. "It's about protecting families, it's about protecting whole communities, it's about protecting our freedoms to go to school, to a grocery store to a church without being shot and killed. According to new data just released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guns are the number one killer of children in the United States of America. The number one killer. More than car accidents, more than cancer. Over the last two decades, more school-aged children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined."

"Think about that," he said, adding, "How much more carnage are we willing to accept? How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say enough, enough?"

Biden said earlier this week he was "not confident" Congress would succeed in passing gun reform legislation, referencing his own time in the Senate.

While serving as then-President Barack Obama's vice president, Biden was tasked in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting to lead the administration's effort to enact tougher gun control laws -- but in the nearly decade since the nation mourned for Newtown, no action on gun control has passed at a federal level.

The last meaningful gun reform legislation passed on Capitol Hill was the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004 due to a "sunset" clause in the legislation. Similar legislation has failed for decades in the Senate due in large part to the filibuster rule, which requires 60 senators for a measure to advance toward a final vote. Though Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in Congress, they cannot push legislation through the Senate without the support of at least 10 Republicans.

President Joe Biden speaks about the recent mass shootings and urges Congress to pass laws to combat gun violence at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, June 2, 2022.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The American public is widely supportive of universal background checks, which have already passed through the House's Democratic majority. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in September 2019 found 89% support for universal background checks, including at least eight in 10 Republicans and conservatives.

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted along party lines, 25-19, to approve the Protect our Kids Act and send to the full chamber for a vote next week.

The markup lasted over nine hours and concluded as Biden addressed the nation and called on Congress to take up specific gun control reforms - many of which are included in Democrats' proposal.

The bill, which would raise the purchasing age for semiautomatic rifles to 21, limit large capacity magazines, create safe storage requirements and tighten regulation of "ghost guns," lacks 60 votes to pass in the Senate.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden pay their respects at the Robb Elementary School memorial, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in the deadliest U.S. school shooting in nearly a decade, in Uvalde, Texas, May 29, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As Biden prepared for his speech on Thursday, funerals were underway in Uvalde, where he visited families of victims.

He claimed earlier this week to have visited more aftermaths of mass shootings than any other American president.

"Jill and I met with the owner and staff for the funeral home," Biden said during his address on Thursday night. "He's being strong, strong, strong, strong to take care of their own. And the people in Uvalde mourn, as they do over the next 17 days, what will we be doing as a nation?"

"It's time for each of us to do our part," he added. "It's time to act. For the children we've lost, the children we can save, for the nation we love, let's hear the call and the cry. Let's meet the moment, let us finally do something. God bless the families who are hurting."

ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report.