By JOE BIDEN
The White House
One year ago today [May 14], an individual who had posted a white supremacist manifesto, armed with an AR-15 style firearm, killed 10 Black Americans and injured three others at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Ten days later, another lone gunman, again armed with an AR-15 style firearm, killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Jill and I visited both communities, spending hours with hundreds of family members who lost pieces of their soul and whose lives will never be the same. They had one message for all of us: Do something. For God’s sake, do something.
I carried their message back to Washington, which finally broke the congressional logjam. Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years.
At the bill signing, in front of families from Buffalo, Uvalde and too many other communities affected by gun violence, I said the new law was real progress. It strengthens firearms background checks for young people, expands the use of red flag laws to temporarily remove firearms from those who are a danger to themselves or others, helps prevent domestic abusers from purchasing guns and makes historic investments in mental health to address the grief and trauma resulting from gun violence.
I also urged Congress to take this victory as a call to action, an opening to do more to reduce gun violence.
We need to do more. In the year after the Buffalo tragedy, our country has experienced more than 650 mass shootings and well over 40,000 deaths due to gun violence, according to one analysis.
Just last weekend, an assailant in tactical gear and armed with an AR-15 style weapon killed eight individuals, including children, at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas. Guns are the number one killer of children and teens in America.
I have already taken more meaningful executive action to reduce gun violence than any other president, and I will continue to pursue every legal and effective action. But my power is not absolute. Congress must act, including by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring gun owners to securely store their firearms, requiring background checks for all gun sales, and repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability. We also need more governors and state legislators to take these steps.
The majority of Americans – even the majority of gun owners – want Congress to take some commonsense action to reduce gun violence. But too many congressional Republicans are doing the bidding of gun manufacturers instead of their constituents.
So, one year after the Buffalo tragedy, how do we seize the momentum of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and spur Congress to do more? We need to pursue three steps:
- Fully implement the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to show congressional Republicans that commonsense laws save lives.
- Take additional action to maximize the benefits of the law.
- Build an even bigger, unrelenting coalition demanding that Congress pass additional commonsense gun safety legislation.
My administration is aggressively implementing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The Justice Department is now running enhanced background checks on individuals under age 21 trying to purchase a firearm.
These enhanced checks have already stopped more than 160 firearms from getting into potentially dangerous hands, according to data from the Justice Department. Justice has also used the act to charge more than 60 defendants with gun trafficking and illegally purchasing firearms for another person, seizing hundreds of firearms that could have ended up in the hands of criminals.
Justice awarded more than $230 million for states to expand the use of red flag orders and other interventions to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is a danger to themselves or others. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, combined, have already delivered more than $1.5 billion to states and communities to make our schools safer, improve access to mental health services, and help young people deal with the trauma and grief resulting from gun violence.
This includes funding that the Department of Education projects will put an additional 14,000 mental health professionals in our schools, and to boost the skills of school staff to better meet students’ mental health needs.
The bottom line is this: the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is saving lives.
Today, I am announcing more than ten actions my administration is taking to maximize the benefits of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. These actions are the result of the Executive Order I signed on March 14.
For example, the White House and Department of Justice will soon convene state legislators and governors’ offices, urging them to enact laws allowing the federal background check system access to all records that could prohibit someone under age 21 from purchasing a firearm. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Education are creating new resources to help health care providers and educators understand the impact of gun violence trauma on communities, and how the act’s funding can be used to address that trauma.
Across the administration, we are doubling down on efforts to make sure schools and communities know about the resources available through the act, and to encourage more communities to use the funding to replicate strategies others are using to successfully reduce gun violence.
Now, we must build an even bigger, unrelenting coalition demanding that Congress pass additional gun safety legislation. To that end, I will invite to the White House law enforcement leaders supportive of an assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban.
When I helped secure a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994, law enforcement’s support was key to our success. Once again, I am asking law enforcement leaders to mobilize their colleagues all across the country to urge Congress to ban assault weapons. I know the brave Americans who serve in law enforcement are tired of being outgunned by criminals with AR-15 style firearms, losing officers in the line of duty, and carrying the trauma of these attacks for the rest of their lives.
America doesn’t have to be a place where our children learn how to duck and cover from a shooter or scan a movie theater or restaurant for their exit options.
Gun violence is mobilizing an entire generation of young people. But we cannot sit back and pass this problem off to the next generation to solve. If we wait, too many of them will never have the chance to grow up. They deserve better than that, as do all of the gun violence survivors and victims’ families asking Congress to do more.
For God’s sake, do something.
President Joe Biden is the president of the United States. Previously, he represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate – starting as the youngest to be elected to the Senate – before becoming the 47th vice president of the United States. On Jan. 20, 2021, he became the 46th president of the United States. He can be reached through https://www.whitehouse.gov.