President Biden made a forceful case on Friday for stronger gun laws, saying American children caught up in school shootings are suffering from the same trauma as soldiers in war.
Speaking at a firearms safety summit in Hartford, Conn., attended by victims of gun violence, Mr. Biden marked one year since the passage of a bipartisan bill intended to prevent dangerous people from accessing guns. But he said there was more to be done.
“What’s the difference between the post-traumatic stress that a soldier meets in the hills of Afghanistan,” Mr. Biden asked, and the kind of trauma a “fourth-grade kid meets in a classroom when they have to duck and cover?”
Mr. Biden’s call for action comes at a time of deep pessimism about the prospects for significant legislative action on gun control, despite one mass shooting after another in the United States.
Even with majorities in both houses of Congress during Mr. Biden’s first two years in office, Democrats could not pass a ban on assault weapons. Any effort now is almost certain to fail in the Republican-controlled House, as the party has largely united against new gun control measures.
But Mr. Biden said on Friday that Congress must find a way to tighten the laws.
“If this Congress refuses to act,” Mr. Biden said, “we need a new Congress.”
One year ago, a bipartisan group of lawmakers struck a narrow compromise, galvanized by a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The bill expanded background checks for gun buyers and set aside millions of dollars so states can pay for intervention programs, such as mental health and drug courts, and carry out red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from any person found by a judge to be too dangerous to possess them.
Mr. Biden said Friday that the Justice Department has provided more than $230 million for states to expand such laws, and the Department of Health and Human Services has also provided more than $1.5 billion to states to hire 14,000 mental health professionals for schools.
Mr. Biden said the legislation already was having an effect on violent crime in America, but he called it merely a “first step.”
The nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice examined trends in 35 cities and found that homicides, gun assaults and reports of domestic violence declined slightly in 2022 compared with the year before. The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks gun violence using police reports, news coverage and other public sources, has counted more than 260 mass shootings as of late May. Last year, the group counted 647 mass shootings, which it defines as incidents in which at least four people were killed or injured.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve met with people at events in the country who shake my hand and say, ‘I’m worried there has been another shooting not far from where I live. I’m scared to send my kid to school,’” Mr. Biden said. “It’s had a profound impact.”
Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords, the gun control organization founded by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, said gun control is a potent issue as the 2024 campaign heats up.
“I think the White House realizes how important this issue is to the American public and he’s drawing a contrast between who has delivered results on this issue, Joe Biden and the Democrats, and who has not,” Mr. Ambler said.
Mr. Biden said in March that he had “gone the full extent of my executive authority to do, on my own, anything about guns,” and added that the burden to act was on Congress. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, left open this week the possibility that the White House could take additional action, but did not provide details.
“We’re always going to figure out what else we can do to protect communities,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “So that is something that we’re — that certainly our team is going to look at.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs is a White House correspondent covering a range of domestic and international issues in the Biden White House, including homeland security and extremism. He joined The Times in 2019 as the homeland security correspondent. @KannoYoungs
Michael Corkery is a business reporter who writes about low-wage workers, the economy and industry. Before joining The Times in 2014, he reported for The Wall Street Journal and The Providence Journal. @mcorkery5
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