Obama calls on Biden, says ‘people with power’ should finish his job and ban ‘assault weapons’

The blood has barely dried in Boulder, Colorado, and former president Barack Obama is calling for new gun control legislation. His former underling, Joe Biden, is already considering it.

Less than 24 hours after Ahmad Alissa allegedly opened fire in a Colorado supermarket, killing 10 people, Barack Obama released a statement on Tuesday calling on “those with the power” to restrict the ability of Americans 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,” Obama wrote.

The US’ endless gun control debate is always reignited in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, and Obama experienced several during his two terms in office. Obama addressed the nation no fewer than 14 times following mass shootings that took place on his watch, but opted not to push for gun control until the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, which took place after he had already secured a second term in office.

He fired off a salvo of executive orders early the following year, expanding background checks, pressuring law enforcement to prosecute gun crime more vigorously, and tasking various government bodies with studying gun violence as an “epidemic.” However, his sweeping Assault Weapons Ban was defeated in Congress in 2013, with the Democrat-controlled Senate voting 60-40 against it.

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US President Joe Biden speaks about the mass shooting in Colorado from the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC on March 23, 2021.
Biden urges ban on ‘assault weapons and high-capacity magazines’ after Boulder attack

Biden has promised to resume Obama’s fight, and during his campaign vowed to deliver a ban on assault weapons (a controversial term used by the anti-gun lobby to denote all semi-automatic long weapons, but by the gun industry only to refer to fully automatic weapons, which were already banned in 1986). He also promised to compile a registry of these weapons already in circulation, to buy back weapons from owners, and to end all online gun sales, among other measures. 

Yet though he is now one of “those in power” called out by Obama, Biden faces a more difficult task than his former boss. Obama’s landmark assault weapons bill was defeated by a Senate in which Democrats held a 55-45 majority. The Senate is currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving the party a razor-thin edge over the GOP. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has recently passed two bills mandating stricter background checks. However, like Obama’s bill, both would require a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and even if Democrats vote unanimously, 10 Republicans are unlikely to cross party lines to support them.

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An undated photo of Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, identified by police as the suspect in a mass shooting at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, released March 23, 2021 © Reuters / City of Boulder
Police identify suspect in Boulder store shooting as Ahmad Alissa, say they’ve found no motive

The US has experienced two mass shootings in just over a week. Prior to the Boulder shooting, a gunman in Atlanta, Georgia, shot up three massage parlors, killing eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. Though the media discourse following the Atlanta shooting focused on the shooter’s supposed gripes with Asian people and self-confessed “sex addiction,” Biden had already dispatched policy adviser Susan Rice to meet with gun control activists in February, and used the anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting the same month to demand that Congress “enact commonsense gun law reforms,” including an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Yet with Congress in the way, Biden’s words are worth little more than Obama’s. Biden was a Senator when Bill Clinton signed a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994, and presided over the Senate when Obama’s 2013 effort to reinstate the ban failed. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he announced that “we can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again,” adding “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour” to take “common sense” gun control measures.

Despite Biden’s apparent conviction, the Republican Party, not to mention the Senate, might have something to say about it.

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