Biden, Democrats continue to push for a ban on assault weapons

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Joe Biden talks about the “scourge” of gun violence, his answer is to focus on assault weapons.

America has heard it hundreds of times, including this week after the shootings in Colorado and Virginia: The president wants to sign into law banning high-powered weapons that have the potential to kill many people very quickly.

“The idea that we still allow the purchase of semi-automatic weapons is satisfying,” Biden said on Thanksgiving Day.

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After the mass killing last Saturday 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 remove weapons of war from America’s streets.”

Such a move remains elusive in a deeply divided Congress. But Biden and the Democrats have become emboldened in pressing for stronger gun controls — and doing so without obvious electoral consequences.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives in July passed legislation to revive the 1990s-era assault weapons ban, with Biden’s vocal support. And the president has pushed for gun bans nearly everywhere he’s campaigned this year.

However, in the midterm elections, the Democrats retained control of the Senate, and the Republicans could only claim a slim majority in the House in two decades.

The tough gun talk follows the passage of a landmark bipartisan gun bill in June, and reflects the steady progress gun control advocates have made in recent years.

“I think the American public has been waiting for this message,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been a leading advocate in the Senate for stronger gun control since the massacre of 20 children at a school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. “There was a thirst of Voters, especially swing voters, young voters, parents, to hear candidates talk about gun violence, and I think Democrats are finally kind of catching up to what the public has been.”

Just over half of voters would like to see gun policy nationwide get tougher, according to 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 to keep the gun policy the same. Only 14 percent would prefer relaxed gun laws.

Read more: Vice President Harris calls on Congress to ban assault weapons

There are clear partisan divisions. About 9 in 10 Democrats want stricter gun laws, compared to about 3 in 10 Republicans. About half of Republicans want to leave gun laws as they are and only a quarter want gun laws to be made less stringent.

When politicians talk about assault weapons, they usually mean semi-automatic rifles that can quickly fire 30 rounds without reloading. By comparison, most NYPD officers carry a semi-automatic handgun that fires 15 rounds.

Once banned in the United States, high-powered firearms are now the weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings. Congress allowed restrictions first put in place in 1994 on the manufacture and sale of guns 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, incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Scott signed gun control laws in the wake of the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and an Orlando nightclub. But he has consistently opposed bans on assault weapons, arguing like many of his fellow Republicans that most gun owners use their guns legally.

“People are doing the right thing, why do we take their weapons?” Scott asked while the Senate was negotiating a gun bill last summer. “Does not make 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 change something,” Scott said.

Law enforcement officials have long called for stricter gun laws, arguing that the availability of these guns 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 makes sense to talk about guns when gun violence is on the rise across the country, and to consider what the government can do to make the streets safer. He’s grateful to Biden for bringing it up so often.

“It’s not an isolated incident,” Moore said of the Colorado Springs shooting. “These things are evolving all the time, in other cities, and at any given moment another incident happens. He cries out for the federal government and our lawmakers to come out and make this change.”

Within the past six months, there has been a shooting in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York; massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas; and a Fourth of July shooting at revelers in Highland Park, Illinois.

Six people were shot dead on Tuesday at a Walmart store in Virginia.

The legislation Biden signed in June will help states, among other things, establish “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to take guns from people deemed dangerous.

But banning assault weapons was never on the table.

The 60-vote threshold in the Senate means some Republicans should be on board. Most are vehemently opposed, arguing that it would be too complicated, especially with the proliferation of firearms sales and types. There are many more types of these weapons—and many of the same weapons—today than there were in 1994, when the ban was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who is a hunter and owner of several guns, said, “I’d rather not try to define a whole bunch of guns as no longer available to the American public.” his family. “For those of us who grew up with guns as part of our culture, and use them as tools — there are millions of us, there are hundreds of millions of us — who use them legally.”

In many states where bans were enacted, the restrictions have been challenged in court, gaining strength from a June Supreme Court ruling expanding gun rights.

“We feel very confident, despite the arguments put forward by the other side, that history and tradition as well as the text of the Second Amendment are on our side,” said David Warrington, Chairman and General Counsel of the National Gun Rights Association.

Biden was instrumental in helping secure the 1990s ban as a senator. While it was in place, the White House said, mass shootings decreased, and when it ended in 2004, shootings tripled.

Reality is complicated.

said Robert Spitzer, professor of political science at the State University of New York-Cortland and author of “Politics Controls the Gun.”

Politically, the ban sparked a backlash, even though the final bill was a compromise version of the initial bill, he said.

“The gun community was outraged,” Spitzer said.

Prohibition was blamed in some districts for Democrats losing control of Congress in 1994, Spitzer said, although later research showed the loss was more likely due to strong, well-funded conservative candidates and district boundaries.

However, after Democrat Al Gore, who supported stricter gun laws, lost to Republican George W. Bush in 2000, Democrats largely backtracked on the issue until the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012. Even then, it wasn’t the topic. campaign theme until the 2018 midterm elections.

Now, gun control advocates are seeing progress.

“The fact that the American people elected a president who has long been an outspoken and consistent supporter of bold gun safety laws — and was recently re-elected in a landslide to the Senate — says all you need to know about how politics influences this issue,” said John Fineblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Associated Press writer Noha Dolby contributed to this report.

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