WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, Parkland parent and gun control advocate Fred Guttenberg was unhappy with President Joe Biden.
During his first press conference on March 25, Biden pivoted away from a question about gun control after mass shootings in Boulder, Colorado, and Atlanta to talk about infrastructure, and Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, voiced his displeasure on Twitter.
“Two mass shootings in two weeks,” Guttenberg tweeted, in all caps. “You owe us better than this.”
Amid increased attention from gun-control activists and the latest wave of mass shootings that included an ex-NFL player allegedly shooting five people in South Carolina on Wednesday, Biden announced six policy changes intended to curb gun violence at a Rose Garden event on Thursday.
Guttenberg, along with other gun-control activists from Florida like Pulse nightclub survivor Brandon Wolf and March For Our Lives representatives, were there and Biden made a point to acknowledge them.
“I see my friend Fred Guttenberg,” Biden said, while also addressing Wolf by name. “They’re here, and their pain is immense. Thank you for having the courage to be here, to continue in this fight.”
As president, Biden doesn’t have the power to ban assault weapons or expand background checks without Congress passing a bill. But Biden’s policy changes announced Thursday, which will mostly be implemented by the Department of Justice, show that gun control is a priority. Biden also called on the U.S. Senate to pass two gun-control bills that advanced from the House of Representatives in March, and reiterated his support for banning assault weapons and limiting magazine sizes.
“We should also ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country,” Biden said, while declaring gun violence an “epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.”
Six policy changes
Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland announced six policy changes at the event. The White House instructed the Justice Department to issue a rule to stop so-called “ghost guns” that are built from kits without serial numbers, new regulations that consider pistols with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles, publishing model state-level “red flag” legislation to let individuals petition courts to take someone’s guns away if they’re deemed a threat, additional funds for violence intervention programs, a Justice Department review of firearms trafficking, and the nomination of a gun-control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
After the event, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki credited Guttenberg’s gun-control work as part of what led to Thursday’s action.
“I would say that people like Fred Guttenberg and [Moms Demand Action leader] Shannon Watts and [former congresswoman and gun violence survivor] Gabby Giffords, I mean, these are people who are absolute heroes on getting gun-safety measures in place,” Psaki said. “They led the effort when there was no appetite in Washington and none at the federal level to move forward on putting in place laws around the country. And the president recognizes that, and he has a huge respect and value for the role that they’ve played. That’s why they were here today.”
Guttenberg expresses confidence in Biden
Guttenberg himself held court outside the White House after meeting privately with Biden.
“I believe that this president is committed to leading on this,” Guttenberg said of his confidence level on Biden’s commitment to gun control.
Guttenberg said that the last three months “have been filled with hope” compared with the three years prior asserting, “We’re going to get this done.”
He also hinted that political pressure in 2022 and beyond will favor additional gun-control measures.
“I would just encourage everyone in the Senate to pay attention to the last two election results if they want to keep their jobs,” Guttenberg said. “So, I am telling you, gun violence — if someone can name another issue that has a higher rating in public opinion polls than the idea of doing the bare minimum, which is background checks, I don’t know of one.”
Passing gun-control legislation in Congress in the next two years will be tough. The bill to expand background checks to almost all gun purchases doesn’t have the support of all 50 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, let alone the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Most Republicans oppose Biden’s position on guns, though Florida Republicans in Tallahassee showed a willingness to back some gun-control ideas like limiting purchases for young adults after the 2018 Parkland shooting.
And Wolf, who lost his friends Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Guerrero during the 2016 Pulse shooting in Orlando that claimed 49 lives, noted that Biden visited him after the attack and promised action.
“Drew and Juan made it to the White House,” Wolf tweeted after Biden called out their names, along with Jaime Guttenberg, during his speech.
“Since my daughter was killed on February 14, 2018, too many days have felt like we’ve been on this freight train going in the wrong direction, and what today did is to put the brakes on that,” Guttenberg said. “It said we’re not doing it the other way anymore.”