Fact check: Biden once said gun control may not reduce violent crime

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The claim: Biden once said he ‘never believed’ more gun control or federal registration would reduce crime

Recent mass shootings, including those at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket, have renewed public attention on President Joe Biden’s views on gun control. 

An array of recent Facebook posts are spotlighting one quote in particular from decades ago.

“During my twelve-and-a-half years as a member of this body, I have never believed that additional gun control or federal registration of guns would reduce crime,” read part of a quote attributed to then-Sen. Biden in a June 7 Facebook post that was shared more than 1,500 times in less than a week. 

Other versions of the claim spread widely across the social media platform. 

Biden did make this comment during debate over gun legislation in a 1985 Senate floor session. He has gone on to advocate for gun control measures including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

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USA TODAY reached out to users who shared the claim for comment.

Remark made during Firearms Owners’ Protection Act debate in 1985

The remark came during debate over the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, which amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 by permitting the interstate sale of handguns and increasing penalties for criminal misuse of firearms, among other changes.

Biden voted against amendments that would have enacted a 14-day waiting period for handgun sales and removed a provision requiring notification before routine compliance inspections of firearm dealers and manufacturers.

A series of senators then spoke about the bill, including Biden. Here’s the in-context quote from the Facebook post:

“I believe the compromises that are now a part of this bill have resulted in a balanced piece of legislation that protects the rights of private gun owners while not infringing on law enforcement’s ability to deal with those who misuse guns or violate laws. During my 12 1/2 years as a Member of this body, I have never believed that additional gun control or Federal registration of guns would reduce crime. I am convinced that a criminal who wants a firearm can get one through illegal, nontraceable, unregistered sources, with or without gun control. In my opinion a national register or ban of handguns would be impossible to carry out and may not result in reductions in crime.”

Biden concluded his remarks by saying he would listen intently to arguments for amendments to the bill, but that he was “satisfied with revisions to the bill made in committee” and believed it improved existing regulation of firearms.

The legislation passed in the Senate 79-15 and became law the following year

The National Rifle Association has referred to the legislation as “the law that saved gun rights,” while NBC News said it provided a “key political boost for the burgeoning gun rights movement.”

Biden later supported an array of gun control measures 

In the decades since that vote and comment, however, Biden has supported an array of gun control measures.

NBC News attributed Biden’s shift to the “different era” of the 1986 legislation, “when compromise was common in the Senate and guns were less of a partisan and emotional issue than they are today.”

The Trace, a nonprofit news outlet that focuses on gun violence, described Biden’s modern views as a “far cry from his early career position that gun control is ineffective,” but said his policy evolution “tracked with Americans’ views on crime and guns.” A peak in violent crime rates in the early 1990s, for example, coincided with a peak in support for stricter gun laws.

Biden voted in support of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which became law in 1993 and established an interim five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and a national instant criminal background check system.

As vice president, Biden offered policy proposals to reduce gun violence in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Then-President Barack Obama subsequently proposed a plan that included a background check requirement for all gun sales and a 10-round magazine limit.

Responding to a request for comment on June 13, White House spokesperson Chris Meagher referred USA TODAY to a statement given to NBC News for its 2019 article on the topic. 

“Cherry-picking an out-of-context quote from 1986 doesn’t even begin to address Joe Biden’s unparalleled record on gun safety,” Bill Russo, Biden’s former spokesperson, told NBC at the time. “Let’s be clear on the facts: Joe Biden took on the NRA and won – twice. He led the way to pass the Brady Bill in 1993, establishing the background check system that has kept guns out of the hands of millions of dangerous individuals. In 1994, he also authored the bill banning weapons of war – assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – for a decade.” 

Biden’s latest comments have focused on the types of weapons used in mass shootings.

When asked in a May 31 briefing whether Biden would consider handgun restrictions similar to those proposed in Canada, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president “does not support a ban on the sale of all handguns.” 

Jean-Pierre said Biden supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as expanded background checks “to keep guns out of … dangerous hands.” 

More: ‘Let us finally do something’: Biden urges Congress to pass bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines

Biden reiterated that stance in a primetime address to the nation on June 2. He called for Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that became law in 1994 and included weapons such as AK-47s and AR-15s.

Our rating: True

Based on our research, we rate TRUE the claim that Biden once said he “never believed” additional gun control or federal gun registration would reduce crime. Biden made the remark during a 1985 session of the Senate that included debate over the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, but since then he has advocated for gun control measures including assault weapon bans and expanded background checks.

Our fact-check sources: 

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook. 

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