Politics

Is Biden Missing His Chance on Guns?

President Biden spent decades pushing for gun control. In the early days of his presidency, he’s taking a far less aggressive approach.

By Lisa Lerer

By Lisa Lerer

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your wrap-up of the week in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

After six long years of legislative wrangling, Joe Biden was on the brink of victory. His historic crime bill was finally moving toward passage. Only one issue stood in his way: a controversial, 10-year federal ban on assault weapons.

“Six years ago, it was guns. Five years ago, it was guns. Four years ago, it was guns. Last night it was guns. This morning it was guns,” Mr. Biden told reporters in August 1994, during end-stage negotiations over the legislation. “And right now, it’s guns. It’s guns, guns, guns, guns.”

Much of Mr. Biden’s legislative career could be summarized in the same way. For decades, he played a crucial role in major legislative battles over gun control, championing proposals to tighten regulations on guns and their owners. On the campaign trail last year, Mr. Biden proposed the most expansive gun control platform of any presidential candidate in history, promising to reinstate the assault weapons ban, institute a voluntary gun buyback program and send a bill to Congress on his first day in office repealing liability protections for gun manufacturers and closing background-check loopholes.

Yet 73 days into his presidency, with five mass shootings and more than 10,000 gun violence deaths having already occurred this year, Mr. Biden is approaching the issue with far less urgency. Of the more than 50 executive orders and memorandums he has given so far, none have addressed gun control. That bill he promised to send to Congress never arrived. And his use of the bully pulpit to push for new measures has been uneven to nonexistent.

Less than 24 hours after a shooting rampage last month in Boulder, Colo., that killed 10 people, Mr. Biden promised action, saying he didn’t need to “wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps” on gun control. When pressed on those measures by reporters two days later, he seemed more comfortable waiting: He quickly dismissed the specifics of his proposals as “a matter of timing,” before making clear that his focus would be the infrastructure bill.

“Of any president in my lifetime, he has the most expansive understanding of gun violence,” said Kris Brown, the president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence. “But I’ll be honest, when I first heard that, it did not make me feel good.”

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