WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will use his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday to pressure lawmakers to confront gun violence, underscoring the administration’s focus on fulfilling a campaign pledge that had been mostly overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
During his remarks, Biden will reiterate his characterization of gun violence as an epidemic, both in the drumbeat of recent mass shootings and a spike in homicides and gun violence in communities across the country, a White House official told USA TODAY.
He will repeat calls for Congress to pass two House bills to strengthen background checks for gun buyers and close the so-called Charleston loophole, which allows gun sales to proceed without a completed background check if three business days have lapsed, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s remarks. The bills, which have broad public support, have languished in an evenly divided Senate where Democrats would need to maintain their razor thin majority while also finding 10 Republican votes.
Despite the uphill battle, Democrats are heed the president’s call. Last week Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., reintroduced a bill to remove protections for manufacturers and sellers from consumer negligence lawsuits and allow victims of gun violence to pursue legal recourse. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a key Democrat leading gun control efforts, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week that he’s made calls to almost half the Republican caucus “asking them to keep an open mind.”
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The U.S. has already seen 165 mass shootings this year, including 46 mass shootings in the month of April alone, according to the independent data collection and research group Gun Violence Archive. The group defines a mass shooting as incident with four or more people injured or killed.
Earlier this month, Biden declared gun violence as an ” epidemic and an international embarrassment” as he announced half a dozen executive actions aimed at curbing the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, or untraceable weapons that can be constructed from parts purchased online, as well as tightening regulations on the kind of stabilizing braces for pistols used in last month’s Boulder, Colorado, shooting that left 10 people dead.
The orders, billed as the administration’s first steps to tackle gun violence, fell short of Biden’s campaign pledge to reinstate an assault weapons ban, create a voluntary gun buyback program and send a bill to Congress to repeal liability protections for gun manufacturers and close background check loopholes on his first day in office.
The president instead used his first weeks to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and, more recently his plans for a sprawling $4 trillion spending proposal on infrastructure as well as education and childcare which he is also expected to lay out during his address. The laser focus on the pandemic frustrated some advocates, who pressed the president to follow through on his ambitious gun control agenda before the nation’s attention faded in the wake of a rash of mass shootings in Atlanta, Colorado and Indianapolis.
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Part of Biden’s infrastructure proposal includes a $5 billion investment in community violence intervention programs over eight years, but the president has also issued an executive action to direct five federal agencies to alter 26 different programs to make funding immediately available for community violence intervention programs.
Biden is expected to touch on the political realties of passing gun safety legislation and the partisan gridlock that has stalled previous efforts, including his own as a senator and later as former president Barack Obama’s vice president following the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, the official said. Biden will again urge Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines – a measure he helped pass as a senator in 1994.
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The president will also underline the popularity of the reforms he’s proposing on gun safety, including among gun owners, the official added. A recent poll ABC News/Ipsos poll found a majority of Americans (57%) disapproved of the way Biden has handled gun violence as president among both Democrats and Republicans.