By Zachary Stieber
President Joe Biden on Feb. 14 urged Congress to strengthen existing laws concerning gun ownership on the third anniversary of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
“The Parkland students and so many other young people across the country who have experienced gun violence are carrying forward the history of the American journey. It is a history written by young people in each generation who challenged prevailing dogma to demand a simple truth: we can do better. And we will,” Biden said in a statement.
“This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer. Today, I am calling on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets.”
In the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2018, a man identified by authorities as Nikolas Cruz, now 22, walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle. The shooting left 17 dead, including 14 students. Cruz, who is currently awaiting trial, could face the death penalty.
After the shooting, a number of Parkland students and parents began agitating for stricter gun control laws, arguing that Cruz shouldn’t have been able to obtain a gun. But others pointed to failures by law enforcement, including safety officer Scot Peterson, who has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges for not entering the school building to confront Cruz, and urged restraint on new measures.
Biden said during his 2020 campaign that he supports stronger gun control; last week, administration officials met with gun control advocates, including Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, and John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters later that the administration is ready to move on the “ambitious plan” Biden laid out during the campaign.
Biden said on his campaign website that he will “defeat” the National Rifle Association (NRA). Among his proposed actions is repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun manufacturers from some lawsuits, banning so-called assault weapons, as Congress did for 10 years in 1994, and forcing people to either give up certain guns and magazines or register them with the federal government.
The NRA’s lobbying arm has fired back at Biden, saying he wants to ban “America’s most popular class of centerfire rifles, as well on the factory-spec magazines for most of the defensive pistols sold in the U.S.”
“Just as when Joe Biden unsuccessfully pursued gun control as Barack Obama’s vice-president, your NRA is fully prepared to oppose whatever plans he may have to ‘defeat’ America’s largest and oldest civil rights organization and the fundamental liberties it protects,” it stated in a recent blog post.
While Democrats control both chambers of Congress in addition to the White House, they require some Republican support in the Senate to pass new legislation.
Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) on Feb. 14 also mourned the shooting anniversary.
“As we honor the anniversary of this tragedy, we must also find the strength as a nation to prevent such tragedies from ever being repeated. With President Biden in the White House, we finally have the opportunity to make real strides to end gun violence. No survivor should endure another year of inaction. The fear of mass gun violence for Americans doing the most normal of activities, as well as gun violence in too many neighborhoods across the country, must be brought to an end with congressional action,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
Deutch added, “On this day, I recommit to ensure that the names of the 17 victims are never forgotten in the halls of Congress and to honor their memory with action that will make our communities safer from gun violence.”
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