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After Texas shooting, Biden reiterates the U.S. has to stand up to gun makers

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden has been talking about getting tougher gun laws for decades - first as a senator, then as vice president, after the Sandy Hook school shooting 10 years ago and more recently as president. Last night, he spoke again after Uvalde and said there's no reason that the U.S. should have so many mass shootings, other than a failure to stand up to gun-makers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Where in God's name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with and stand up to the lobbies?

FADEL: But will this mass shooting change the deep-set politics of gun control? I spoke about the president's reaction with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: He started out by speaking about the pain that parents feel when they lose a child, and he urged Americans to pray for the families and the young children who saw their classmates murdered. But it did not take him long to express frustration that politically, the issue of gun safety is stuck. In the '90s, when he was in the Senate, Biden shepherded through two pieces of legislation, including what was known as the assault weapons ban. But that expired after 10 years. Last night, he talked about how the number of mass shootings has only gone up since that ban sunsetted. You know, after Sandy Hook in 2012 - that shooting that left 20 small children and six school staff dead - as vice president, he led efforts to revive the assault weapons ban as well as to strengthen background checks. But those measures and other efforts failed in Congress.

FADEL: Yeah, and this was an issue he ran on. And not much has changed in a polarized Congress. So what can the president do about it now?

KEITH: He has already taken executive actions, what he can do, including rules to ban untraceable ghost guns, more funding for violence intervention programs. But big change doesn't come from executive orders. It would take Congress to limit the types of guns that can be sold or expand background checks or put in red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of someone who's a danger to themselves or others. Last week, after the mass shooting in Buffalo, he said that it's going to be hard, but he said he's not going to give up. Last night he said it's time to act. He said, quote, "We can do so much more. We have to do more." But a reminder here - Democrats only have the narrowest majorities in Congress.

FADEL: Yeah. And you mentioned Buffalo, which is less than two weeks ago, another mass shooting. This one, so many young children were killed. So does this moment, this shooting in an era of one mass shooting after another, change the politics at all?

KEITH: You know, after Sandy Hook, people thought that could be the moment that would shake up politics, but it didn't. And there was a similar moment after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which really mobilized young people to stand up and push for change.

FADEL: Right.

KEITH: Now, the country is at another point where this question is being raised, but the old talking points came back out with incredible speed. A majority of Americans do support tougher gun laws. There is a minority of people who intensely believe that such measures infringe on their constitutional rights. And that group is highly motivated to vote on that single issue. It's hard to see anything getting 60 votes in the Senate, and there are even some Democrats who oppose getting rid of the filibuster rule.

FADEL: NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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