President Joe Biden is hosting a “celebration” of a new bipartisan law meant to reduce gun violence that, after just 16 days in effect, already has been overshadowed by yet another mass shooting.
The bill, passed after recent gun rampages in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, incrementally toughens requirements for young people to buy guns, denies firearms to more domestic abusers, and helps local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous.
But the South Lawn event on Monday morning comes a week after a gunman in Highland Park, Illinois, killed seven people at an Independence Day parade, a stark reminder of the limitations of the new law in addressing the American phenomenon of mass gun violence.
Biden on Saturday invited Americans to share with him via text — a new White House communications strategy — their stories of how they’ve been impacted by gun violence, tweeting that “I’m hosting a celebration of the passage of the Safer Communities Act.”
The law is the the most impactful firearms violence measure Congress has approved since enacting a now-expired assault weapons ban in 1993. Yet gun control advocates — and even White House officials — say it’s premature to declare victory.
“There’s simply not much to celebrate here,” said Igor Volsky, director of the private group Guns Down America.
“It’s historic, but it’s also the very bare minimum of what Congress should do,” Volsky said. “And as we were reminded by the shooting on July 4, and there’s so many other gun deaths that have occurred since then, the crisis of of gun violence is just far more urgent.”
Volsky’s group, along with other gun violence advocacy groups, was set to host a news conference on Monday outside the White House calling on Biden to stand up a dedicated office at the White House to address gun violence with a greater sense of urgency.
Biden has left gun control policy to his Domestic Policy Council, rather than establishing a dedicated office like he stood up to address climate change or the gender policy council he established to promote reproductive health access.
“We have a president who really hasn’t met the moment, who has chosen to act as a bystander on this issue,” Volsky said. “For some reason the administration absolutely refuses to have a senior official who can drive this issue across government.”
The president signed the bipartisan gun bill into law on June 25, calling it “a historic achievement” at the time.
“Time is of the essence. Lives will be saved,” Biden said in the Roosevelt Room during a hastily arranged signing ceremony before he flew to Europe. Referencing the families of shooting victims he has met, the president said: “Their message to us was, ‘Do something.’ How many times did we hear that? ‘Just do something. For God’s sake, just do something.’ Today we did.”
White House officials said Biden doesn’t see the passage of the bill as the finish line, but rather a foundation that needs to be built on. The Illinois shooting occurred nine days after the bill signing.
“I recently signed the first major bipartisan gun reform legislation in almost 30 years into law, which includes actions that will save lives,” Biden said after July 4th shooting. “But there is much more work to do, and I’m not going to give up fighting the epidemic of gun violence.”
On Friday, Biden responded to the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by taking note of how the shooting had shocked people in Japan. The country has a strikingly low incidence of gun violence compared to the U.S., which has experienced thousands of gun deaths already this year.
Most of the new law’s $13 billion in spending would be used for bolstering mental health programs and for schools, which have been targeted by shooters in Newtown, Connecticut; Parkland, Florida; and many other gun massacres. It was the product of weeks of closed-door negotiations by a bipartisan group of senators who emerged with a compromise.
It does not include far tougher restrictions that Democrats and Biden have long championed, such as a ban on assault-type weapons and background checks for all gun transactions. Biden on Monday was expected to reiterate his call for those tougher measures, but prospects are slim for any further congressional action.