President Joe Biden delivered a prime-time speech to the nation and presided over a Rose Garden ceremony after Congress approved the massive COVID-19 relief bill.
After the House passed legislation requiring background checks for gun sales, a long-standing Democratic concern, there was not even a comment from the White House.
After a string of mass shootings, Biden’s views on gun control have changed along with his party, from a reluctance to introduce too many limits that blue-collar Democrats opposed to a near-unanimous call to do something about gun violence.
Even common policies like background checks are low on Biden’s priority list in the early months of his presidency, and their chances in the Senate are bleak.
The two bills passed by the House last week would broaden background checks on gun sales, marking the first major progress on gun control since Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
They’re among a slew of big bills passed by House Democrats in recent weeks, including ones to extend voting rights and promote union organizing, that now face an uncertain fate in the Senate. Biden’s supporters are hoping that he will become more interested in the background check legislation.
“I hope and expect President Biden to be able to participate in hand-to-hand lobbying in the Senate on background checks,” said Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy, who has led the Senate’s drive for gun control.
Early in his Senate career, Biden was more conservative on gun issues, but by the mid-1990s, he had helped pass the Brady bill, which required federal background checks for gun sales, and he had written the 1994 crime bill, which contained a 10-year assault weapons ban.
During his presidential campaign, Biden supported a broad gun-control platform, endorsing an assault weapons ban and buyback policy that was once seen as divisive and is unlikely to be implemented in a divided Congress.
Last month, on the third anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Biden released a statement reiterating his support for such reforms, causing the National Rifle Association to call him “increasingly hostile” to gun rights.
In a tweet, Biden said, “Today, I am calling on Congress to pass commonsense gun law changes, such as enforcing background checks on all gun purchases, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and ending protection for gun manufacturers who knowingly place weapons of war on our streets.”
However, the bills that just passed the House gained just a smattering of Republican support, and they face a much more difficult path in the Senate, where 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats and independents for them to pass.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, who introduced one of the bills, indicated that in order to move them forward, Democrats would have to drop the 60-vote threshold for passing legislation.
In an interview, Clyburn said, “I think it’s about time for us to get rid of the filibuster.”
However, a number of Democrats, including Biden, have expressed resistance to changing the filibuster. As a result, gun-control proponents are hoping that the politics of gun control have changed so that more Republicans would be able to support legislation that is broadly accepted by the American public.
With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pledging a floor vote on the background check measures, Democrats are confident that Republicans will rise to the occasion.
They’re also inspired by the NRA’s diminishing power, which filed for bankruptcy this year after being outspent for the first time in the 2018 election by gun-control groups.
Last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “I think the implosion of the NRA, the increasing support among the American people, and the inevitability of increased support gives us an opportunity we haven’t had before.” “What has changed is that we now have a president who can place pressure on our colleagues,” he said.
While much of Biden’s gun-control agenda is unlikely to succeed in a Senate that is evenly split, some of his policies can be enforced by prioritizing federal resources. For example, Biden has suggested directing the FBI to notify state and local law enforcement authorities if anyone attempting to purchase a gun fails a background check. He’s also said he’ll ask his attorney general to look at ways to improve gun laws’ compliance.
However, the Biden administration has yet to indicate how the president will participate. Biden is looking forward to working with Congress “to advance agendas, including repealing weapons manufacturers’ liability shields,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. He “will look for opportunities to be engaged” on the background check bills, she said.
Democrats continue to face electoral obstacles. Although 57 percent of Americans want tighter gun controls, according to a Gallup poll released in November, this was the lowest number in favor since 2016. In January, gun sales set a new high, continuing a year-long upward trend.
Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, have been working together for years to find a solution on background checks.
Toomey’s office said in a statement that the senator supports a previous bipartisan proposal with Manchin, but that “action on this issue is only possible if the bill in question is narrow and respects the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Despite this, supporters say they are hopeful that with a largely united Democratic Party and the president on their side, they will hopefully see some change.
Everytown USA President John Feinblatt cited Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections, in which he campaigned publicly for gun control, as proof that politics is shifting.
“The White House and both chambers of Congress are dominated by Democrats. He said that the NRA is in the worst shape it has ever been. “It’s become clear that gun-control regulations aren’t just sound policy; they’re also good politics.”