Joe Biden’s walk was notably slow and deliberate as he stepped off the presidential helicopter and made his way into the White House Tuesday evening. During the 17-hour flight back from Japan aboard Air Force One, news had reached him of the devastating shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
“I had hoped when I became President I would not have to do this—again. Another massacre,” Biden said in remarks to the nation from the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing.
It was the 27th time this year that a shooter armed with a gun had injured or killed people at a school, according to a tally kept by EducationWeek. Just 10 days before the killings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a white supremacist shooter in Buffalo, N.Y., targeted Black people, killing 10 inside a supermarket with an AR-15 rifle equipped with high-capacity ammunition clips in a rampage he planned to livestream online.
“As a nation we have to ask, when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Biden said. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”
The president described the feeling of loss after the death of a child, and seemed to draw on his own experiences losing his son Beau Biden in 2015, and his one-year-old daughter Naomi and his first wife Neilia in a car crash in 1972. “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” Biden said.
As a presidential candidate, Biden promised to “end” the country’s scourge of gun violence. But there isn’t enough political will in Congress to strengthen federal gun control laws. There hasn’t been for decades. One of Biden’s most significant legislative accomplishments as a U.S. senator was helping pass a ban on assault weapons in 1994. Congress allowed that ban to expire in 2004. Rapid-fire weapons and high-capacity magazines make it easier for a shooter to tear through more bodies.
Speaking to the nation Tuesday evening, Biden said that mass shootings declined after Congress passed gun control legislation in the ‘90s. When the assault weapons ban lapsed, shootings spiked, he said. “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage,” he said.
A decade ago, after 20 children and six adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Biden turned his vice presidential office into a command center to get gun control measures through Congress. None made it to President Obama’s desk. The initiatives couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. “Why do we keep letting this happen?” Biden asked.
A majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws, according to polling by Gallup. Fifty two percent of Americans think laws covering the sale of firearms should be more strict. But that number has declined in recent years, from 67 percent in favor of tougher gun measures in 2018.
Standing in the White House in the wake of the school shooting in Texas, Biden said he wanted to shame opponents of gun control. “We have to make it clear to every elected official in this country. It’s time to act. It’s time for those who obstruct or delay or block the common sense gun laws, we have to let you know we will not forget. We can do so much more. We have to do more.”