America has heard it hundreds of times, including this week after shootings in Colorado and Virginia: The President wishes to sign a ban on powerful weapons which has the capacity to kill many people very quickly.
“The idea that we’re still allowing semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick,” Biden said on Thanksgiving Day. “I’ll try to get rid of assault weapons.”
After last Saturday’s mass killing at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, he said in a statement: “When will we decide we’ve had enough? … We need to enact an assault weapons ban to get weapons of war out of America’s streets.”
When Biden and other lawmakers talk about “assault weapons,” they’re using an imprecise term to describe a group of high-powered weapons or semi-automatic long rifles, like an AR-15, that can fire 30 rounds rapidly without reloading. By comparison, New York City police officers carry a gun that fires about half as much.
A gun ban is a long way off in a tightly divided Congress. But Biden and the Democrats have become increasingly emboldened to push for stronger gun control — and are doing so without clear electoral consequences.
Yet in midterm electionsDemocrats retained control of the Senate, and Republicans were only able to claim their smallest majority in the House in two decades.
“I think the American public has been waiting for this message,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been the Senate’s leading advocate for stronger gun control since massacre of 20 children at a school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. “There’s been a thirst from voters, especially swing voters, young voters, parents, to hear candidates talk about gun violence, and I think the Democrats are finally catching up to where the public has been.”
Just over half of voters want to see the nationwide gun policy tightened, according to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. About 3 in 10 want gun policy to be kept as it is. Only 14% favor looser gun laws.
There are clear partisan lines. About 9 in 10 Democrats want stricter gun laws, compared to about 3 in 10 Republicans. About half of Republicans want gun laws to remain as they are, and only a quarter want gun laws to be made less strict.
Once banned in the United States, the high-powered firearms are now the weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings. Congress allowed the restrictions, first introduced in 1994 on the manufacture and sale of the weapons, to expire a decade later, unable to muster political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the gun ban.
When he was governor of Florida, current Republican Senator Rick Scott signed gun control laws in the wake of mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and an Orlando nightclub. But he has consistently opposed gun bans, arguing like many of his Republican colleagues that most gun owners use them legally.
“People are doing the right thing, why should we take away their guns?” Scott asked as the Senate debated gun legislation last summer. “It makes no sense.”
He said more mental health counseling, assessments of troubled students and law enforcement on campus make more sense.
“Let’s focus on things that would actually make a difference,” Scott said.
Law enforcement officials have long called for stricter gun laws, arguing that the availability of these weapons makes people less safe and makes their jobs more dangerous.
Mike Moore, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, the nation’s third largest, said it only makes sense to talk about guns when gun violence is on the rise across the country and consider what the government can do to make the streets safer. He’s grateful that Biden is bringing it up so much.
“This is not a one-and-done,” Moore said of the Colorado Springs shooting. “These things develop all the time, in other cities, anytime another incident happens. It’s crying out for the federal government, for our legislators, to step out and make this change,” he said.
On Tuesday, six people were shot and killed at a Walmart in Virginia. During the last six months there has been a supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York; a massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas; and the Fourth of July killing of revelers in Highland Park, Illinois.
The legislation, which Biden signed in June, would, among other things, help states enact “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to take guns from people deemed dangerous.
But a ban was never on the table.
A threshold of 60 votes in the Senate means that some Republicans must join. Most are adamantly opposed, arguing that it would be too complicated, especially as the sales and varieties of firearms have grown. There are many more types of these powerful weapons today than in 1994, when the ban was signed by President Bill Clinton.
“I would rather not try to define an entire group of guns as no longer available to the American public,” said Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who is a hunter and owns several guns, some of them passed down through his family . “For those of us who grew up with guns as part of our culture and we use them as tools — there are millions of us, there are hundreds of millions of us — who use them legally.”
In many states where the bans have been passed, the restrictions are challenged in court and given strength by a The judgment of the Supreme Court in June expanded gun rights.
“We feel pretty confident, even despite the arguments from the other side, that history and tradition as well as the text of the Second Amendment are on our side,” said David Warrington, president and general counsel of the National Association for Gun Rights.
Biden was instrumental with securing the 1990s ban as a senator. The White House said that while it was in place, mass shootings dropped, and when it expired in 2004, shootings tripled.
The reality is complicated. The data on effectiveness is mixed, and there is a sense that other measures that are not as politically charged may actually be more effective, said Robert Spitzer, a professor of political science at the State University of New York-Cortland and author of “The Politics”. of arms control.”
Politically, the ban sparked a backlash, even though the final law was a compromise version of the original bill, he said.
“The gun community was outraged,” Spitzer said.
The ban has been blamed in some quarters for Democrats losing control of Congress in 1994, although subsequent research has shown that the loss was likely more about strong, well-funded conservative candidates and district lines, Spitzer said.
Still, after Democrat Al Gore, who supported stricter gun laws, lost the race for the White House in 2000 to Republican George W. Bush, Democrats largely supported the issue until the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Even after that, it was not a campaign issue until the mid-term period 2018.
Now gun control advocates are seeing progress.
“The fact that the American people elected a president who has long been a vocal and staunch supporter of bold gun safety laws — and recently re-elected a gun-sense majority to the Senate — says all you need to know about how dramatic the policy is on this issue. has shifted,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Associated Press writer Nuha Dolby contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of gun politics at https://apnews.com/hub/gun-politics