President Biden has started to call for Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons after yet another spate of mass shootings, despite the extremely low likelihood that it will do so. This is a sign that he may be trying to use Republicans as a counterbalance now that a GOP takeover of the House is making his legislative goals even more improbable.
The president’s comment that it is “just sick” that the United States permits the sale of semiautomatic weapons, made in response to shootings that left a combined 11 people dead in a Colorado LGBTQ club and a Virginia Walmart, does not, according to his aides, reflect any illusions about the realities of divided government.
The aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, said that Biden believes public opinion has changed in favor of Democrats on some important social issues with an eye toward positioning himself and his party for 2024.
Approximately equal numbers of Americans support and oppose a ban on assault weapons, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in July. 61 percent of parents who were asked by the Pew Research Center in the fall about the effectiveness of a ban in preventing school shootings said it would be at least somewhat effective, while 38 percent disagreed.
Some Democrats believe that younger voters, who supported the party during their unexpectedly successful midterm elections, are particularly supportive of gun control measures. In the meantime, as he moves closer to a planned reelection bid, Biden will probably be forced to shift his focus away from legislative victories and toward galvanizing Democrats and putting Republicans on the defensive.
Even before the Republicans take control of the House in January, there is little evidence that enough votes exist for an assault weapons ban, despite Biden’s pledge that he will begin “counting the votes” in Congress. Since the Senate is currently evenly divided and legislation needs 60 votes to pass, at least 10 Republicans would need to cross the aisle in order to send a bill to the president’s desk.
After weeks of challenging negotiations in the wake of the murder of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, a much more modest gun control measure passed the Senate in June with the support of 15 Republicans. That measure, which, among other things, increased some background checks, was viewed by many senators as going as far as Congress would be willing to go.
In an effort to make it clear that he understands that passing such a bill is an “uphill battle,” Biden brought up the subject in a private meeting with advisers in the Oval Office, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday. Still, she said, Biden planned to use the power of the presidency to make the case to the public, hoping to put pressure on Republican lawmakers who she said are out-of-step with voters.
The prospect that Biden’s policies remain popular with voters, even though his approval rating lags, has given the White House confidence in the wake of the midterm elections, which saw Democrats outperform historic norms even as they lost their slim majority in the House.
Several Democratic candidates praised the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first gun control law to be signed in 30 years, during the campaign season. The bill stopped short of the more extensive gun control measures that the president and many Democrats have called for, but it did seek to increase federal funding for state “crisis intervention programs,” including red-flag laws.
Democratic candidates for office, many of them younger ones, made stopping gun violence and mass shootings a focal point of their campaigns. The election of Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost, who made history by becoming the first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress, demonstrated how gun politics have changed over the past ten years. Frost, 25, worked for a group that was founded by survivors of a high school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. He has stated that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 inspired him to get involved in political organizing.
In addition, despite falling short of expectations in the midterm elections, House GOP leaders have not indicated a willingness to reach a consensus with Biden on a number of issues, much less one of paramount importance to their constituents.