For the second time in less than two weeks, President Biden on Tuesday tried to console a nation reeling from another mass shooting, demanding action on gun control and asking what it would take for lawmakers to stand up to gunmakers and lobbyists who he said have prevented “common-sense gun laws.”
“As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name are we going to do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Biden said in an emotional, seven-minute prime-time address after his return from a five-day trip to South Korea and Japan.
The president’s comments came hours after a gunman killed at least 21 people, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in the small working-class city of Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio.
A visibly frustrated but somber Biden said he was “sick and tired” of mass shootings and declared it was “time to act.”
“How many scores of little children ... witnessed what happened — see their friends die, as if they’re on a battlefield, for God’s sake?” he asked.
Biden’s trip to Asia has been bookended by tragic shootings. Just before leaving for his overseas trip, he traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., to grieve with the families of victims of the May 14 mass shooting at a grocery store that left 10 people dead.
During his 17-hour return flight from Asia, when he learned of the latest shooting, Biden said he was struck by the fact that other countries are rarely faced with the kind of mass shootings that regularly plague the U.S.
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he asked. “Where in God’s name is our backbone?”
Before landing in Washington, Biden spoke to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and offered assistance, according to the White House. The president also issued a proclamation ordering American flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and all federal buildings until sunset Saturday.
Biden also spoke about the last time he was asked to stand up and speak about a shooting at an elementary school, nearly a decade earlier while he was vice president. He recalled the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. The tragedy led to a national push for gun reform, but the legislation was ultimately blocked by a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate.
He emphasized that more than 900 incidents of gun violence have been reported on school grounds between then and now, including the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 that left 17 dead.
The president acknowledged that while every tragedy couldn’t be prevented, common-sense gun laws — including an assault weapons ban— could make a difference.
The White House has been under pressure from gun safety advocacy groups to fulfill Biden’s campaign pledge to curb gun violence. The president has issued a raft of executive orders cracking down on so-called ghost guns, or untraceable weapons that can be constructed from parts purchased online; ordered the Justice Department to create gun-trafficking “strike forces” and directed cities to use federal relief funding to boost police forces and expand community violence intervention programs.
But Biden and White House officials say the president’s power is limited and only Congress can enact meaningful gun safety legislation. Republicans have long blocked gun safety bills, including a push last year to expand background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines.
Before Biden’s remarks, Vice President Kamala Harris said she would normally say “that our hearts break — but our hearts keep getting broken.”
“Enough is enough,” she said in brief remarks at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies 20th Annual Awards Gala. “As a nation, we have to have the courage to take action and understand the nexus between what makes for reasonable and sensible public policy to ensure something like this never happens again.”