Joe Biden delivers gun-safety speech hours after son’s firearm conviction

Gun Rights

Joe Biden delivers gun-safety speech hours after son’s firearm conviction

President sought to rally support around issue but speech was briefly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters

Joe Biden, facing a backlash from young voters over the war in Gaza, sought to rally support around the issue of gun safety just hours after his son Hunter was convicted of lying about his drug use to illegally buy a firearm.

Contrasting his record with election rival Donald Trump, the US president brought an audience that included many students to its feet at the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund’s annual Gun Sense University conference in Washington on Tuesday.

But in a reminder of the issues jostling for priority in voters’ minds, Biden’s remarks were briefly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters. One shouted: “You’re complicit in genocide!” As the crowd booed, Biden said: “No, no, no, no … It’s OK. Look, they care. Innocent children have been lost. They make a point.”

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He went on to give an otherwise uneventful speech that made no mention of Hunter Biden’s conviction in Delaware earlier in the day on three felony counts relating to buying a handgun while being a user of crack cocaine.

The conference, which brings together Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers and survivors of gun violence from all 50 states, served as a show of strength for Biden at a time when his position looks fragile in opinion polls.

Speakers praised his commitment, compassion and willingness to listen. Julvonnia McDowell, whose 14-year-old son JaJuan was shot and killed by another teenager playing with an unsecured firearm in Savannah, Georgia, told the gathering: “I can say today, standing here right now, he’s been true to his word on the urgency of creating a safer future for families like mine and yours.

She added:I am proud to stand with him.”

Biden was greeted by chants of “Four more years” and “Let’s go, Joe!” He received loud acclaim when he reminded the audience that in June 2022 he signed the most significant federal bipartisan gun-safety legislation in nearly 30 years; on Wednesday, the justice department announced it had charged more than 500 defendants under the new law.

There was another big cheer when Biden noted his creation last September of the first White House office of gun violence to coordinate a nationwide effort to reduce gun violence, “overseen by my incredible vice-president”.

But perhaps the most enthusiastic response came to the president’s renewed call for a ban on assault weapons, sparking prolonged cheering, whooping and chants of “Four more years!” Biden asked: “Who in God’s name needs a magazine which can hold 200 [bullets]?” Someone shouted: “Nobody!” Biden replied: “Nobody. That’s right.

He added: “They’re weapons of war and, by the way, it’s time we establish universal background checks.”

Biden asserted that the country’s murder rate saw the highest increase on record in the year before he came to the presidency. But last year saw the largest drop in murder rates in history, he added.

He condemned congressional Republicans for seeking to abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a law enforcement agency responsible for fighting gun crime. “You can’t be pro-law enforcement and say you are pro-law enforcement and be pro-abolishing the ATF. It’s outrageous.”

He went on to take a swipe at Trump, reminding voters of the stakes in November. “After a school shooting in Iowa killed a student and a teacher, my predecessor was asked about it. You remember what he said. He said: ‘Have to get over it.’ Hell, no!

“More children are killed in America by guns than cancer and car accidents combined. My predecessor told the NRA [National Rifle Association] convention recently he’s proud that ‘I did nothing on guns when I was president’, and by doing nothing, he made the situation considerably worse.

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“That’s why Everytown, why all of you here today are so damned important. We need you. We need you to overcome the unrelenting opposition of the gun lobby, gun manufacturers, so many politicians when they oppose commonsense gun legislation.

In the 2024 election cycle, the NRA has contributed a total of $191,900 to 166 House Republicans, according to the non-profit group OpenSecrets. It gave nearly $75,000 to Senate Republican candidates and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. The NRA has spent more than $100m to help elect Republicans over the past decade.

Trump has said there is “no bigger fan” of the NRA than he is, and is vowing to roll back the measures and implement national concealed-carry reciprocity legislation, which, critics say, will weaken states’ gun-safety laws and harm law enforcement.

A 2022 poll by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 71% of Americans – including about half of Republicans, the vast majority of Democrats and a majority of those in gun-owning households – say gun laws should be stricter.

Believing this to be an arena where the electoral choice is clear-cut, the Biden campaign is seeking to make a major push on gun safety. Last week, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, held a gun-violence-prevention campaign event in Maryland with Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks and hosted a Students for Biden-Harris organising call.

Voters cited addressing gun violence as their third most important issue during the 2022 midterm elections, according to a Politico-Harvard survey. But in this cycle it is competing with the cost of living, immigration, abortion rights, the defence of democracy and the war in Gaza.

Drew-Spiegel, 19, a gun-violence survivor and student from Deerfield, Illinois, said: “Joe Biden has done the most any administration in my life has done for gun-violence prevention. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was the first comprehensive gun reform we got in 30 years, which is remarkable and I am super proud of his administration for that.

“I believe that Biden is certainly on the right track, which is why it’s critical to keep him in office. We saw what Donald Trump has in store and he has no intentions of making our communities safer, of keeping guns off the hands of dangerous people. He will cosy up to the NRA, as he has already done, and not only will they stop reform from happening but they will actively take us in the opposite direction.”

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