Biden Gets Political in Lewiston, Calls For "Common Sense, Reasonable Measures"

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

President Joe Biden avoided a direct call for a gun ban during his visit to Lewiston, Maine on Friday, but couldn’t resist injecting politics into what should have been a somber and non-partisan occasion. While the White House announced before his trip that Biden and the First Lady would be mourning the victims and comforting those affected by the attack on innocent victims at a bowling alley and restaurant, the president used his public remarks while on the ground (in fact, standing in front of the bowling alley where the killer first struck) to obliquely call for gun control measures.

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“I’ve been at this a long time,” Biden said, adding “I know consensus is ultimately possible.” The president didn’t mention any specific policy in his remarks at the podium, but declared “this is about common sense, reasonable, responsible measures to protect our children, our families, and communities.”

“Regardless of our politics, this is about protecting our freedom to go to a bowling alley, restaurant, school, a church, without being shot and killed,” Biden intoned.

Biden kept his comments vague, but given his repeated demands for Congress to pass a ban on so-called assault weapons there was little doubt what he was referring to, especially since he’s already used the murders in Lewiston to call for a gun ban. In his first statement about the killing of 18 people and the wounding of 13 others Biden called on Congress to approve several gun control measures, including “banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” enacting universal background checks, mandating storage requirements for guns, and repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

While Biden hinted once again at his desire for more gun control, he studiously avoided the fact that the U.S. Army involuntarily committed the killer to a mental health facility months ago, though the FBI has reported that he wasn’t listed as a prohibited person in the NICS database.

The Army reservist who killed 18 people and wounded at least a dozen more last week was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in New York this summer after exhibiting erratic behavior during training, a hospital official told the Globe on Tuesday.

After that commitment, the Army told Card’s commander that he should not have a weapon, handle ammunition, or participate in live-fire activity while on duty. However, that order does not appear to have had any effect on Card’s ability to purchase or use guns as a civilian.

In fact, the only reason Card was blocked from buying a suppressor — a device that silences the sound of gunfire — a month after his hospitalization is because Card self-reported the incident on a form required for the purchase.

Had Card not been truthful, there was nothing to stop him from picking up the device at a local gun store. Under federal statute, involuntary commitment should have made Card ineligible to purchase or possess guns.

The oversight is just one of many shocking revelations that have come to light in the six days since Card open fired on a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston, sparking criticisms about what authorities could have done to prevent it.

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The questions about why his involuntary commitment wasn’t disclosed to federal authorities have still not been addressed, though that wasn’t the only missed opportunity to address his declining mental state and growing dangerousness in the months before the attack took place. Both law enforcement and the killer’s family in Maine were aware of his erratic behavior and violent threats, yet there was apparently no attempt to commit him to another mental health facility or to use the state’s “yellow flag” law to temporarily remove firearms from his home.

Biden blithely ignored those glaring issues in his remarks on Friday afternoon, first speaking about the pain and grief shared by the victims, their families, and the community at large before pivoting to the political and injecting gun control rhetoric (minus any specific reference to gun control legislation) to the somber occasion. I’ll give Biden a tiny amount of credit for not uttering the words “gun ban” in his remarks, but as I said, there’s still no doubt what he meant by “reasonable” and “common sense” measures; banning the most popular rifles in the country, turning tens of millions of lawfully possessed magazines into prohibited items, and criminalizing the right to keep and bear arms in the name of public safety.

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