President Joe Biden argued lawmakers have taken too long to address gun violence in the U.S. and called for an assault weapons ban in a statement on the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, saying America should have “societal guilt” for its slow response.
In a statement on Wednesday, Biden argued lawmakers have a “moral obligation to pass and enforce laws” designed to prevent mass shootings from taking place.
Biden called on lawmakers to “eliminate” assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which the gunman used at Sandy Hook, that he said have “no purpose other than to kill people in large numbers”—House Democrats passed an assault weapons ban in July but the legislation is not expected to pass the Senate, where Democrats say they don’t have the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
Biden argued it is “within our power to do this” for the “sake of not only the lives of the innocents lost, but for the survivors who still have hope.”
Biden’s comments come 10 years to the day after 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School with a Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle and two handguns, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before fatally shooting himself. It was one of multiple school shootings in recent years, including the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead, as well as the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May where 21 people, including 19 children, were killed. The Uvalde massacre was one of multiple high-profile mass shootings in the U.S. this year, along with a shooting at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, where 10 people were killed. Those shootings sparked a national debate around gun violence. In June, Biden signed a gun control bill into law, calling the legislation a critical tool to combat gun violence and saying, “lives will be saved.” That bill included provisions strengthening background checks for people under 21, closed the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by prohibiting non-spousal domestic abusers from owning firearms, and made gun trafficking a federal crime. Fearing mass shootings in large crowded areas, New York City Mayor Eric Adams passed a gun ban in “sensitive areas” in the city, including Times Square, after it was temporarily blocked by a federal judge. In Connecticut, meanwhile, former Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed a gun control bill into law one year after the Sandy Hook shooting, requiring background checks for all gun purchases.
Opponents of gun control measures have argued restrictions on firearms violate Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms, and that lawmakers should instead focus on mental health issues they claim are a key culprit behind them. Following the House’s passage of the assault weapons ban this summer, the National Rifle Association—a primary critic of gun control measures—argued the bill’s proponents are “selling a lie” and that the legislation does nothing to prevent shooters from accessing the “tens of millions of firearms of the types it would ban” already in circulation. Republican lawmakers also formed a near-unanimous front to oppose the assault weapons ban, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) saying on the House floor it takes weapons away from people who use them for self-defense. Republican Senators were much more willing to approve the bipartisan gun control bill passed in June, however, with 15 Senate Republicans joining all 50 Senate Democrats.
The families of victims in Newtown settled for $73 million with gun manufacturer Remington Arms, following a 2014 class-action lawsuit. The nine families claimed Remington’s assault weapon should not have been sold publicly—echoing an argument from gun violence prevention advocates in recent years. In a separate defamation lawsuit in Connecticut, families of victims were awarded nearly $1 billion from far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who spread false claims the massacre was a hoax (Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, were later ordered to pay another $473 million). Jones was also ordered by a judge in Texas to pay another $45 million in punitive damages to victims’ families for spreading the conspiracy theory—Jones filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.
628. That’s how many mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings in which at least four people were injured or killed—making 2022 the second-worst year for gun violence since the GVA started recording shooting data in 2013. The highest number was 690 last year. According to a House Committee on Oversight and Reform investigation, gun manufacturers have made more than $1 billion over the past decade off the sale of AR-15-style weapons—described as a mass shooter’s weapon of choice.