In his first public comments on gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, President Joe Biden this week questioned the need for high-capacity assault weapons, including the high-power rifle used in the deadly massacre that left 18 people dead, though Democrats’ efforts to ban assault weapons and enact other gun control measures seem all but certain to continue falling flat in the face of heavy GOP pushback.
Biden called on congressional Republicans to “fulfill their obligation to keep Americans safe” in a Saturday post on X, formerly known as Twitter, vowing to “continue doing everything in my power to end this gun violence epidemic.”
Speaking at a campaign fundraiser Friday night, Biden also asked, “who the hell needs an assault weapon that can hold, in some cases, up to 100 rounds?” NBC News reported, appearing to reiterate his calls for an assault weapons ban.
Despite the calls for a ban, the effort faces heavy pushback from congressional Republicans and gun advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association, a major lobbying organization strongly opposed to sweeping gun control legislation, while some right-wing lawmakers have argued instead for legislation to curb mental health issues and to limit gun access to people deemed dangerous.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), widely considered one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress, stopped short of supporting an assault weapons ban this week, showing her support instead for measures to ban “very high capacity magazines,” joining Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) to oppose a full assault weapons ban—more than a dozen states ban high-capacity magazines, according to gun safety group Everytown.
Other measures aimed at mental health have more recently come into the spotlight following a slate of shootings this year, while several state initiatives to limit gun access, including California’s assault weapons ban, have failed, with a judge ruling last week California’s ban is unconstitutional.
Some measures have also aimed at expanding gun rights: King joined Collins and congressional Republicans just hours before the shooting in Lewiston in support of an amendment to a spending bill to prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs from sharing personal information on veterans for federal background checks if they are deemed mentally unfit.
In a policy reversal this week, Rep. Jared Golden, a Maine Democrat who had an A+ rating from Maine gun rights advocates, admitted he regretted his prior opposition to an assault weapons ban, giving Democrats one more vote in the House for a potential ban. Golden, a Lewiston native who represents the city, called on Congress to pass a ban on assault rifles, including the AR-style weapon used in the deadly Lewiston, Maine, shootings.
What To Watch For
While the House was able to pass a bill for an assault weapons ban last year—while under Democratic control—that ban failed in the Senate, and faces worse odds of passing this session in the House, where Republicans hold a 221-212 majority over Democrats.
Biden’s push for an assault weapons ban, a key Democratic priority in recent years, is far from his first effort to back such a ban. Biden slammed lawmakers on the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, saying Congress has a “moral obligation to pass and enforce laws” to prevent mass shootings, calling on lawmakers to specifically “eliminate” assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Biden reiterated that call in March following a deadly mass shooting at a private school in Nashville, Tennessee, saying “it’s about time that we begin to make some more progress” on an assault weapons ban.
Assault weapons had been banned federally for 10 years between 1994 and 2004—a ban Biden backed as a member of the Senate—though efforts to revive the measure following its expiration have all fallen flat, facing nearly unanimous pushback from right-wing lawmakers and massive lobbying efforts from the National Rifle Association. One of the closest attempts to reinstate the ban came last summer, when the then-Democratic-held House approved a ban on the import, manufacturing, sale and transfer of semiautomatic assault weapons. That ban, notably, came with several exceptions, including grandfathered rifles, hunting rifles and shotguns and weapons for military or law enforcement officers (Golden was one of the five House Democrats who voted against that ban). The measure, which served as a congressional milestone in a years-long Democratic push for gun violence reduction, was largely symbolic, and faced insurmountable odds in the Senate, where the bill’s proponents were counting on 10 Republicans to join all Democrats to pass the ban, which eventually failed. Other measures aimed at reducing gun violence have been more successful. Last year, both chambers of Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act following mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, which strengthened background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and provided federal grants for states to enact so-called red flag laws to prevent people who pose a threat to themselves or others from purchasing firearms. Republicans have also pushed for legislation tackling mental health issues and boosting school security in the wake of mass shootings.
More than $1 billion. That’s how much U.S. gun manufacturers made off the sale of AR-15 style weapons between 2011 and 2021, according to a House Committee on Oversight and Reform investigation released last summer.
Following a multi-day manhunt for the man police believe carried out the massacre in Lewiston—the country’s deadliest mass shooting this year—officials said they found the body of suspect Robert Card with a self-inflicted gunshot wound Friday night.