WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden called on Congress to “immediately pass” legislation that would close loopholes in gun background checks and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in his first public remarks after a mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, killed 10 people.

“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act,” Biden said Tuesday, speaking from the White House State Dining Room.

Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden are “devastated” by the shooting, adding that he “just can’t imagine how the families are feeling – the victims whose futures were stolen from them.”

“As president,” he said in remarks lasting six minutes, “I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal to keep the American people safe.”

Monday’s carnage at a King Soopers grocery store was the nation’s second mass shooting in a week, six days after an attack at three Georgia spas that left eight people dead. It reignited a debate over gun control as Biden also faces challenges posed by a global pandemic and a growing number of migrants gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Biden pointed to two bills that passed the House this month that would “close loopholes in the background system,” urging the Senate to move with urgency to pass both.

One would expand background checks on individuals seeking to purchase or transfer firearms, while the other would close the “Charleston loophole,” a gap in federal law that lets gun sales proceed without a completed background check if three businesses days have passed.

“These are bills that received votes with both Republicans and Democrats in the House. This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue that will save lives, American lives. And we have to act. We should also ban ‘assault weapons’ in the process.”

Biden recalled a law he helped pass as a senator from Delaware in 1994 that banned the manufacturing of ‘assault weapons’ and high-capacity magazines for civilian use. The law phased out in 2004, however, under a 10-year sunset provision. A new bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., would revive the ‘assault weapons’ ban.

“It was the law for the longest time,” Biden said. “And it brought down these mass killings. We should do it again.”

In addition to legislation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the Biden administration is considering a “range of levers,” including executive actions, to address gun safety. She did not elaborate.

Slain officer the ‘definition of an American hero,’ Biden says

The president said he was briefed by Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray on the shooting. He spoke to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and planned to speak to Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver. Biden said he will “have much more to say as we learn more.”

Biden made his comments before departing on Air Force One for Columbus, Ohio, where he toured an Ohio State University hospital on the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act going into effect. “I hope so,” Biden said, crossing his fingers, when asked whether he has the political capital to move forward on gun measures. “I don’t know. I haven’t done any counting yet.”

Biden directed flags at the White House to be flown at half staff, just hours after the president’s previous order to honor the Atlanta victims by lowering the flags expired.

Colorado law enforcement authorities identified 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa as the suspect in the Boulder shooting. He is in custody and faces murder charges. A motive is unclear. The 10 victims ranged in age from 20 to 65 and included one Boulder police officer, Eric Talley, 51.

Biden called Talley “the definition of an American hero” and extended his condolences to his family.

“When he pinned on that badge yesterday morning, he didn’t know what the day would bring,” Biden said. “He thought he would be coming home to his family and his seven children. But when the moment to act came, officer Talley did not hesitate in his duty, making the ultimate sacrifice in his effort to save lives.”

Schumer vows a vote on gun background checks

Biden’s push for urgent action on guns came as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on gun violence – organized before the Boulder shooting – and as gun control activists renewed calls for the president to move on stricter gun laws.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate, now that Democrats hold slight control in the chamber, will “debate and address” gun violence. He vowed to bring the bill requiring universal background checks to the floor.

“We cannot seem to finish grieving one tragedy before another takes place,” Schumer said. “It’s a reminder that we must confront a devastating truth in the United States: an unrelenting epidemic of gun violence steals innocent lives with alarming regularity.”

Yet passing any gun legislation could be a struggle for Democrats, who would need 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a potential filibuster. Senate Republicans slammed the renewed Democratic efforts on gun legislation.

“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. He accused Democrats of wanting to “take away guns from law-abiding citizens,” which he said would make crime worse.

As a candidate in the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden regularly touted how he successfully took on the National Rifle Association during his political career.

Biden wasn’t always anti-gun.

He campaigned on requiring background checks for all gun purchases, repealing protections for gun manufacturers, banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and creating a program to buy back assault such weapons on the streets, among other reforms.

Former President Barack Obama grieved for the families of the victims in a statement. He also called for action on gun control, saying it is “long past time for those with the power to fight this epidemic of gun violence to do so.”

With Biden as his vice president, Obama unsuccessfully pushed for gun reform measures after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut killed 20. His efforts stalled amid resistance led by Republicans.

“It will take time to root out the disaffection, racism and misogyny that fuels so many of these senseless acts of violence,” Obama said. “But we can make it harder for those with hate in their hearts to buy weapons of war. We can overcome opposition by cowardly politicians and the pressure of a gun lobby that opposes any limit on the ability of anyone to assemble an arsenal. We can, and we must.”

— Joey Garrison

Police: Suspect bought weapon days before supermarket shooting. 10A
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