Gun violence epidemic demands action from Biden, Congress
N0045 ctnyq r k bx BC-WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s first priority in reaching office was tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Now he has another on his plate in the flood of deaths by readily available firearms across the country.
Hardly a day passes in his young presidency when another shocking multiple killing does not occur, too often at the hands of local police officers. A movement is underway to limit access to firearms, but the crisis has already become a national scandal and disgrace requiring action by the president and Congress.
The challenge is an immediate test of Biden’s heralded desire and intention to restore bipartisanship to the workings of Washington.
The notion marked his 36 years of leadership in the Senate and as chairman of its Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees for much of that time.
As vice president in the Obama Administration, he sought to reach across the aisle to the many Republicans with whom he maintained cordial if not always productive relations.
But the political stakes are much higher now, particularly in the Senate, where a 50-50 tie holds between the two major parties and power to break it is in the hands of Vice President Kamala Harris as president of the Senate.
In the first critical test of the Biden presidency, she cast the deciding vote for his massive legislative package to combat the COVID-19 pandemic that had brought the nation’s economy to its knees. Unsurprisingly, bipartisanship was nowhere in evidence as not a single Republican voted for the recovery bill.
Prospects for future conciliation between the parties dimmed from the outset, and it is difficult to imagine Republican support for gun control measures.
The latest case of mass gun violence, the shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis that killed eight and injured seven victims, has sparked renewed demands in Congress. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Sunday: “I hope this will increase the chances to get something done. We’ve been engaged in consistent discussions with Republicans. Interest in this issue does get elevated when there are more high-level shootings.”
Murphy said he is looking to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer to offer a new gun control bill later in the spring. In March, the House passed a bill expanding background checks on all gun sales and most transfers of ownership, as well as giving the FBI 10 days to check on such transactions.
Meanwhile, the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, continues its longtime effort to defend the Second Amendment, which specifies that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
The argument goes on over that language, and the NRA contends the right is broad and implies individual gun ownership. But the demand for sensible efforts to curb the mayhem from all manner of firearms also increases with each new incident.
Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.