President Biden promises modest action to address ‘epidemic’ of gun violence at White House ceremony attended by Connecticut senators and a Sandy Hook family

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Eliza Fawcett, Hartford Courant
·4 min read
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In April 2013, four months after his son Daniel was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings — and after the U.S. Senate voted to block gun control measures — Mark Barden spoke at the White House Rose Garden.

“We are here now, we will always be here, because we have no other choice,” Barden said, flanked by his family, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. “We are not going away. And every day, as more people are killed in this country because of gun violence, our determination grows stronger.”

Almost exactly eight years later, on another balmy Washington, D.C. day, Barden and his wife Jackie returned to the Rose Garden, where on Thursday President Biden unveiled his first major actions on gun control before an audience of legislators, activists and victims of gun violence.

In his somber and empathetic remarks, Biden invoked the pain of families who “know what it’s like to bury a piece of their soul deep in the Earth” — as well as their frustration over the inertia of gun control efforts in America.

In the years since Sandy Hook, gun violence has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the United States; at nearly 20,000 deaths, 2020 was the deadliest year for gun violence in decades. Federal gun control legislation remains elusive. Just last month, the House passed two bills to close loopholes in the background check system, though the legislation faces an evenly-divided Senate with little Republican support.

“Mark and Jackie, I want to tell you, it’s always good to see you, but not under these circumstances,” Biden told the Bardens. “...What a lot of people who have not been through what they’ve been through don’t understand, it takes a lot of courage to come to an event like this. They’re absolutely, absolutely determined to make change.”

Presenting a series of executive actions aimed at chipping away at America’s gun violence epidemic — which he called an “international embarrassment” — Biden argued that his measures do not conflict with the Constitutional right to bear arms.

“From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own,” he said. “From the very beginning the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to own weapons.”

Within 30 days, Biden said, the Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to prevent the proliferation of “ghost guns” — homemade firearms, often assembled through at-home kits and lacking serial numbers, rendering them untraceable — by requiring buyers to undergo background checks. In the next 60 days, the Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to tighten restrictions on pistol-stabilizing braces, which can be used to make weapons deadlier.

Additionally, within the next 60 days, the Justice Department will publish model “red flag” legislation — allowing family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms — in order to encourage states to pass their own versions. Other measures include investment in community violence interventions and an annual report on firearms trafficking from the Justice Department.

The pro-gun group The Connecticut Citizens Defense League took issue with Biden’s executive actions, including efforts to target pistol braces, which the group claimed in a statement “are a tool used by countless Americans that help stabilize the firearm making it more secure and therefore safer.”

During his remarks, Biden argued that pistols modified with stabilizing braces — such as the one used by the Boulder, Colorado shooter in last month’s massacre — can transform pistols into mini rifles, making them more lethal.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who along with Sen. Chris Murphy, attended the White House event, said that Biden’s address was “a stirring, searing call to action” and called on Congress to “match his courage.”

Noting that Congress wields the power to institute wide-ranging gun control measures, Biden called on lawmakers to take further action by closing “boyfriend” and stalking loopholes that allow people found by courts to be abusers to possess firearms, banning assault weapons, and repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.

“They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress,” Biden said. “But they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers. Time for some action.”

Vice President Kamala Harris decried lawmakers’ intransigence on gun control efforts — despite the thrum of deadly shootings that has long since become background noise to American life.

“Time and again, as progressed has stalled, we have all asked, ‘What are we waiting for?’ Because we aren’t waiting for a tragedy; I know that. We’ve had more tragedy than we can bear. We aren’t waiting for solutions, either, because the solutions exist,” she said. “...All that is left is the will, and the courage, to act.”