Joe Biden took his gun ban plans on the road on Tuesday, calling on the Senate to pass the ban on so-called assault weapons approved by the House earlier this month at a speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
In his rambling address at Wilkes University with several gun control activists in red Moms Demand Action shirts posed behind him, Biden took aim at Republicans for not supporting the ban and accused the GOP of being the real party of defunding law enforcement, even though its progressive Democrats in the House who are holding up a bill that would give federal grant money to local law enforcement agencies.
That bill was supposed to be part of a two-fer approved by House Democrats along with the “assault weapons” ban, but after progressives declared they couldn’t support the police funding bill without changes, Nancy Pelosi moved forward with the gun ban bill, promising establishment Democrats that they’d get to the bill to bolster law enforcement once the House returned from its August recess. So far, that hasn’t happened, with Pelosi announcing a few weeks ago that the legislation was still not ready for a vote.
Biden’s event in Pennsylvania wasn’t meant to prod those progressive Democrats towards funding law enforcement, despite the fact that he started his speech by talking about the need to bolster local police and for greater trust between police and the community they serve. Ironically, while Biden spoke extensively about the need for better relationships between police and the public, his gun control ideology does the opposite. How do gun control laws get enforced, after all, if not by law enforcement officers? And as public defenders in places like New York highlight the racial disparities in enforcing gun control laws, Biden and the gun control lobby have no real answers.
After proclaiming that he and Democrats had “taken on the NRA and won” by securing passage of the Safer Communities Act (a bill that few Americans believe will actually do anything to curtail violent crime), Biden declared that he wasn’t done yet.. and wouldn’t be until he signs an “assault weapons” ban into law.
Biden’s argument in favor of a ban was, as you’d expect, based far more on emotional resonance than any logic. In his view, if you don’t support his gun control plans, you must be okay with kids being murdered in their classrooms. And yet, if you accept Biden’s premise, then the bill that was approved by House Democrats doesn’t go nearly far enough. According to Biden, we live in a “country awash in weapons of war”, but under the bill approved by the House none of the millions of Americans who lawfully possess a modern sporting rifle would be compelled to hand them over to the government for destruction. If Biden’s gun ban passed today there would still be somewhere around 25-million “assault weapons” in the hands of legal gun owners. That’s a lot of “weapons of war” in a country where our armed forces number around 2-million. Why isn’t Biden demanding that those guns be “taken off the streets” as well?
Biden spoke of the brutality inflicted on the children who were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, and how some parents had to identify their children through DNA because of the severe damage done to their bodies. The implication is that, if we only pass his gun ban, then the horrific murders of these children will stop. We know that’s not the case, however.
The Columbine shootings, for instance, took place in 1999; smack-dab in the middle of Biden’s 10-year ban on the the manufacture and sale of “assault weapons” and “large capacity” magazines. Then there’s the fact that the vast majority of guns that are used in violent crimes aren’t rifles of any kind, but handguns. Even if Biden could eradicate all “assault weapons” tomorrow, committed killers will simply use another gun; either one acquired lawfully, through theft, the black market, or building their own. Is any parent going to be relieved if their child is murdered by a madman with a .45 or a 9mm instead of an AR-15 chambered in .223? Is that going to be of any comfort to them?
There’s an undeniable appeal in the idea that if we do this One Simple Thing then the violence will stop; that our kids can “learn to read instead of learning to duck and cover”, as Biden put it. It’s just not true. We have to do several things to really have an impact, and imposing a ban on the most-commonly sold rifle in the country (a ban that almost certainly would be overturned by the courts) isn’t one of them.
A couple of years ago the Secret Service put together a report on targeted school attacks, and found that in more than 90% of the cases the perpetrator had communicated their threats beforehand; in some cases on social media, in others in face-to-face conversations. If we truly want to prevent the next UIvalde, Sandy Hook, or Columbine we can’t do it by trying to ban our way to safety. We have to listen and respond accordingly when those threats are made. In some cases that means the criminal justice system, in others, the mental health system; neither of which is functioning nearly as well as it needs to be at the moment.
So, we know that Biden’s gun ban wouldn’t have an impact on public safety. What about the political fortunes of Democrats? Will Biden’s push goose Democrat turnout in battleground states like Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia is set to shatter the homicide record that was set just last year? Maybe, though I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as much of a motivating factor as the Dobbs decision will be in the end.
Biden trying to make gun control a midterm issue is also going to energize gun-owning Republicans, who know that right now there are only two Democratic senators standing between them and the Senate nuking the filibuster and passing Biden’s gun ban with just 51 votes. Democrats won’t stop there, either. They’ve already told us they’ll pack the Supreme Court and overturn every 2A case going back to Heller as soon as they’ve got the votes to do so.
It would be a mistake, however, for Republican candidates to just frame this as an issue of freedom, especially when Democrats are framing this as an issue about preventing kids from being murdered in their classrooms. You don’t have to be a Democrat or even a hardcore gun control supporter to think that we need to do something to address this issue, and there are plenty of Republicans out there who say they support a ban on modern sporting rifles. I believe that most of those folks are more interested in doing something that works than being deeply supportive of a gun ban, and if conservatives can talk meaningfully on the campaign trail about doing something that’s both constitutionally sound and more effective at preventing these types of shootings in the first place, they should be able to reach non-gun owners and Second Amendment voters alike.