April 8, 2021 – President Biden, Vice President Harris and the Attorney General Deliver Remarks on Gun Violence Prevention
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Kamala — Madam Vice President. Thank you very much.
You know, we’re joined today by the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, who I’ve asked to prioritize gun violence. It’s also good to see the Second Gentleman, who is here. And it’s good to see the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who cares deeply about this issue as well.
And I look out there and I see so many members of Congress who have led in this fight. So many of you who have never given up. So many of you who are in — absolutely determined, as Murph and others are, to get this done.
We got a long way to go. It always seems like we always have a long way to go. But I also — today, we’re taking steps to confront not just the gun crisis, but what is actually a public health crisis. Nothing — nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment. They’re phony, arguments suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake from what we’re talking about.
But no amendment — no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell crowd — you can’t
tell [yell]* “fire” in a crowded movie theater and call it freedom of speech. From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning that the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons. So the idea is just bizarre to suggest that some of the things we’re recommending are contrary to the Constitution.
Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. Let me say it again: Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment. (Applause.)
You know, we saw that again. Last night, as I was coming to the Oval office, I got the word that, in South Carolina, a physician with his wife, two grandchildren, and a person working at his house was gunned down — all five. So many people — so many of the people sitting here today know that well, unfortunately. You know, they know what it’s like when the seconds change your life forever.
I have had the — the pleasure of getting to meet, in awful circumstances, many of you — many of you who’ve lost your children, your husbands, your wives. You know, they know what it’s like to bury a piece of their soul deep in the Earth. We understand that.
Mark and Jackie, I want to tell you: It’s always good to see you, but not under these circumstances.
I want to say, before I introduce the rest of the folks, is, you know, what — a lot of people 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.
But Mark and Jackie, whose son Daniel was a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Daniel loved sports — loves outdoors sports, getting muddy.
I see my friend Fred Guttenberg. His daughter, Jaime, was a freshman at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. She was an accomplished dancer.
I see Brandon Wolf, who — the shooting at the — at the impulse — at the Pulse club — nightclub. He survived, but his two best friends died.
Greg Jackson, who was just walking down the street when he was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight.
And, of course, I see a close friend of Jill’s and mine, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who is here. Who was — who was speaking with her constituents in front a grocery store in her state when she was shot and a member of her staff was killed.
You know, they’re here, and their pain is immense. And, you know, what a lot of you — hopefully many of you — don’t know is if you’ve gone through a trauma, no matter how much you work to make sure others don’t go through it, every time you show up at an event like this, it brings back when you got that phone call. It brings back the immediacy of what happened at that moment.
So I genuinely mean it: Thank you. Thank you for having the courage — the courage to be here, the courage to continue this fight. Senator Blumenthal understands it. A lot of the folks out here understand it. But it takes real courage, so thank you.
To turn pain into purpose and demand that we take the actions that gives meaning to the word “enough.” Enough. Enough. Enough. Enough. Because what they want you to know, what they want you to do is not just listen.
Every day in this country, 316 people are shot. Every single day. A hundred and six of them die every day. Our flag was still flying at half-staff for the victims of the horrific murder of 8 primarily Asian American people in Georgia when 10 more lives were taken in a mass murder in Colorado.
You probably didn’t hear it, but between those two incidents, less than one week apart, there were more than 850 additional shootings — 850 — that took the lives of more than 250 people, and left 500 — 500 — injured. This is an epidemic, for God’s sake. And it has to stop.
So I’m here to talk about two things: first, the steps we’re going to take immediately, and, second, the action that needs to be taken going forward to curb the epidemic of gun violence.
I asked the Attorney General and his team to identify for me immediate, concrete actions I could can take now without having to go through the Congress. And today, I’m announcing several initial steps my administration is taking to curb this epidemic of gun violence.
Much more need be done, but the first — first, I want to rein in the proliferation of so-called “ghost guns.” These are guns that are homemade, built from a kit that include the directions on how to finish the firearm. You can go buy the kit. They have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced.
And the buyers aren’t required to pass a background check to buy the kit to make the gun. Consequently, anyone — anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a weapon.
You know, I want to see these kits treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act, which is going to require that the seller and manufacturers make the key parts with serial numbers and run background checks on the buyers when they walk in to buy that package.
The section [sic] action we’re going to — the second action we’re going to take — back in 2000 — the year 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms released a report on its investigations into firearms trafficking in America. The report was of pivotal value. It was an important tool for policymakers when I was in the Senate and beyond, at all levels, to stop firearms from being illegally diverted into dangerous hands.
Today, with online sales and ghost guns, times and trafficking methods have changed, and we have to adjust. We also have to ask the Justice Department to release a new annual report. This report will better help policymakers address firearms trafficking as it is today, not what it was yesterday.
A third change: We want to treat pistols modified with stabilizing braces with the seriousness they deserve. A stabilizing brace — you’re going to (inaudible) — essentially, it makes that pistol a hell of a lot more accurate and a mini-rifle. As a result, it’s more lethal, effectively turning into a short-barreled rifle. That’s what the alleged shooter in Boulder appears to have done.
I want to be clear that these modifications to firearms that make them more lethal should be subject to the National Firearms Act. The National Firearms Act requires that a potential owner pay a $200 fee and submit their name and other identifying information to the Justice Department, just as they would if they went out and purchased a silencer for a gun.
Fourthly, during my campaign for President, I wanted to make it easier for states to adopt extreme risk protection order laws. They’re also called “red flag” laws, which everybody on this lawn knows, but many people listening do not know. These laws allow a police or family member to petition a court in their jurisdiction and say, “I want you to temporarily remove from the following people any firearm they may possess because they’re a danger. In a crisis, they’re presenting a danger to themselves and to others.” And the court makes a ruling.
To put this in perspective, more than half of all suicides, for example, involve the use of a firearm. But when a gun is not available, an attempt at suicide — the death rate drops precipitously. States that have red flag laws have seen and — seen a reduction in the number of suicides in their states.
Every single month, by the way, an average of 53 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. I wrote the Violence Against Women Act. It’s been a constant struggle to keep it moving. We know red flag laws can have a significant effect in protecting women from domestic violence. And we know red flag laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans.
I’m proud — “Excuse the point of personal privilege,” as we used to say in the Senate — I’m proud that the red flag law in my home state of Delaware was named after my son, Attorney General Beau Biden — our son; excuse me, Jill — who proposed that legislation back in 2013.
I want to see a national red flag law and legislation to incentivize states to enact their own red flag laws. Today, I asked the Justice Department to publish a model red flag legislation so states can start crafting their own laws right now. Just like with background checks, the vast majority of Americans support these extreme risk protection order laws, and it’s time to put these laws on the books and protect even more people. The Attorney General will have more to say about this in a moment.
Additionally, we recognize that cities across the country are experiencing historic spikes in homicides, as the law enforcement can tell you. The violence is hitting Black and brown communities the hardest. Homicide is the leading cause of death of Black boys and men ages 15 to 34 — the leading cause of death.
But there are proven strategies that reduce gun violence in urban communities, and there are programs that have demonstrated they can reduce homicides by up to 60 percent in urban communities. But many of these have been badly underfunded or not funded at all of late.
Gun violence in America — for those of you who think of this from an economic standpoint listening to me — estimated to cost the nation $280 billion –- let me say it again — $280 billion a year. They said, “How could that be, Joe?” Hospital bills, physical therapy, trauma counseling, legal fees, prison costs, and the loss of productivity. Not to mention the psychological damage done to the children who live in these cities, watching this happen, knowing someone it happened to.
This gun violence in our neighborhood is having a profound impact on our children, even if they’re never involved in pulling the trigger or being the victim of — on the other side of a trigger.
For a fraction of the cost of gun violence, we can save lives, create safe and healthy communities, and build economies that work for all of us, and save billions of American dollars.
In the meantime, much of it, as Senator Cicilline knows, is taxpayer money.
Finally, the Bureau of Alcobol [sic] — Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the key agency enforcing gun laws, hasn’t had a permanent director since 2015.
Today, I’m proud to nominate David Chipman to serve as the Director of the AFT. David knows the AFT well. He served there for 25 years. And Vice President Harris and I believe he’s the right person, at this moment, for this important agency.
And I’ve said before: My job, the job of any President, is to protect the American people. Whether Congress acts or not, I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal as President to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort. And they can do it right now.
They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers — members of Congress — but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers. Time for some action.
I believe the Senate should immediately pass three House-passed bills to close loopholes that allow gun purchases — purchasers to bypass the background checks. The vast majority of the American people, including gun owners, believe there should be background checks before you purchase a gun.
As was noted earlier, hundreds of thousands of people have been denied guns because of the background checks. What more would have happened?
These bills, one, require background checks for anyone purchasing a gun at a gun show or an online sale. (Applause.)
Most people don’t know: If you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want and no background check.
Second thing is to close the Charles- — what’s known as the “Charleston” loophole. Like people here, I spent time down at that church in Charleston. What happened is someone was allowed to get the gun used to kill those innocent people at a church service. If the FBI hasn’t com- — didn’t complete the background check within three days.
There’s a process. If wasn’t done in three days, according to Charleston loophole, you get to buy the gun. They bought the gun and killed a hell of a lot of innocent people who invited him to pray with them.
And three, reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which — the so-called — close — (applause) — the “boyfriend” and “stalking” loopholes to keep guns out of the hands of people found by a court to be an abuser and continuing threat.
I held over a thousand hours of hearings to pass the Violence Against Women Act, and one thing came through. If, in fact, a stay-away order — an order preventing the abuser from coming in a certain distance of the person he has abused or she has abused — and now the idea that they can own a weapon when they have a court order saying they are an abuser?
These are some of the best tools we have right now to prevent gun violence and save lives. But all these bills, they had support of both Democrats and Republicans in the House. And universal background checks are supported by the vast majority of the American people and, I might add, the vast majority of responsible gun owners.
So let me be clear: This is not a partisan issue among the American people. This is a view by the American people as an American issue. And I’m willing to work with anyone to get these done. And it’s long past time that we act.
Now, I know this has been a hobbyhorse of mine for a long time — got it done once. We should also ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country. (Applause.)
For that 10 years we had it done, the number of mass shootings actually went down. Even law enforcement officials have told me and told other champions of this legislation they sometimes feel outgunned by assault weapons with large-capacity magazines.
There’s no reason someone needs a weapon of war with 100 rounds, 100 bullets that can be fired from that weapon. Nobody needs that. Nobody needs that.
We got that done when I was a United States senator. It wasn’t easy going up against the gun lobby, but it saved lives. And we should also eliminate gun manufacturers from the immunity they received from the Congress. (Applause.)
You realize — again, the people here — because they’re so knowledgeable out here in the Rose Garden. But what people don’t realize: The only industry in America — a billion-dollar industry — that can’t be sued — has exempt from being sued — are gun manufacturers.
Imagine how different it would be had that same exemption been available to tobacco companies who knew — who knew and lied about the danger they were causing — the cancer caused and the like. Imagine where we’d be.
But this is the only outfit that is exempt from being sued. If I get one thing on my list — the Lord came down and said, “Joe, you get one of these” — give me that one. (Applause.) Because I tell you what, there would be a “come to the Lord” moment these folks would have real quickly. But they’re not. They’re not. They’re exempt.
I know that the conversation about guns in this country can be a difficult one. But even here, there’s much more common ground than we — anyone would believe. There’s much more common ground.
Everything that’s being proposed today is totally consistent with the Second Amendment. And there’s a wide consensus behind the need to take action.
I know that when overwhelming majorities of Americans want to see something change that will affect their lives and it still doesn’t change, it can be demoralizing to our fellow citizens. It can feel like our entire political process is broken.
I know it’s painful and frustrating that we haven’t made the progress that we’d hoped for. But it took five years to get the Brady bill passed, and it took even more years to work to pass the assault weapons ban. And it saved lives.
No matter how long it takes, we’re going to get these passed. We’re not going to give up. We have an opportunity to fulfill the first responsibility of government: to keep our people safe. And in the process, we can show the world and show ourselves that democracy works, that we can come together and get big things done.
When I look around and see such brave survivors sitting out here in the Rose Garden, public servants who devoted their lives to dealing with this, advocates who feel strongly and are pushing every day to make the rational changes, and courageous parents and family members, I know that progress, even in this most difficult of issues, is possible.
So, folks, this is just the start. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But I know almost every one of you sitting in the garden here; none of you have ever given up. We’re not going to give up now.
The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as nation.
Let me say to all of you: God bless you, but most importantly, the memory of all many of you have lost to this senseless gun violence.
And now I’d like to hand it over to the Attorney General for him to speak and make some comments. And I hope I get a chance to see some of you after this is over.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)