Biden Calls Assault Weapons ‘Threat to National Security,’ Vows to Revive 1994 Ban

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Joe Biden

Joe Biden. Photo by Marc Nozell via Flickr

Assault weapons are a “threat to national security,” and those who say nothing can be done about them are not qualified to lead the country, says former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, has joined other candidates in seizing gun control as a defining issue in the battle to unseat President Donald Trump.

Writing in The New York Times op ed section Monday, Biden said a 1994 assault weapons ban he co-sponsored with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had resulted in fewer mass shootings during the 10-year period of the law, which expired in 2004.

“Assault weapons…are a threat to our national security,” Biden wrote. “Anyone who pretends there’s nothing we can do is lying—and holding that view should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to lead our country.”

After mass shootings in Ohio and Texas — the latter tied to a suspect whose anti-immigrant sentiments led to the killing of 22 people — Biden and other candidates are road-testing a withering argument that draws a direct line between gun violence and the president’s racist rhetoric, Politico reports.

A Democratic presidential field that has struggled to define its indictment of  Trump appears to have found it.

“We are living with a toxic brew of two different things, each of which is claiming lives and each of which represents a national security emergency in this country,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said at an Iowa forum on gun violence Saturday.

“One of them is the ready availability of guns … The other is the rise of hate. And when they come into contact with each other, it is deadly.”

Julián Castro, the former Obama Cabinet secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, made an equally explicit connection. “Disarm Hate: Combating White Nationalism and Gun Violence,” he titled his gun control proposal.

As they converged this past weekend in Iowa, a state with a robust gun culture, the stinging case for gun control laid out by White House hopefuls had little in common with past appeals for additional regulation and much to do with Trump’s apparent role in stoking violent white nationalism.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders call Trump a white supremacist. Democrats this year have been buoyed on gun control by gains in statehouses, an internal weakening of the National Rifle Association and by a groundswell of youth activism after the Parkland, Fl., school shooting.

“To me, the tipping point was first of all Parkland, and you could see those results in the midterm, where those kids didn’t just march, they actually voted,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Biden said he’d go up a notch on gun laws. “I’ll get universal background checks passed, building on the Brady Bill, which establishing the background check system and which I helped push through Congress in 1993.”

The former vice president added that he’ll “accelerate the development and deployment” of smart-gun technology.

Biden also criticized Trump for defining gun control as a mental health issue.

“Republican leaders try to prevent action and parrot N.R.A. messaging — as Donald Trump did last week when he said, ‘Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,’” he said.

“If we cannot rise to meet this moment, it won’t just be a political failure, said Biden. “It will be a moral one. It will mean that we accept the next inevitable tragedy.”

However, claims by several, including former President Bill Clinton, that the 1994 ban led to a “big drop” in gun deaths has been challenged by the Washington Post fact-checker. 

The chances of enacting meaningful gun control legislation in the current Congress remain slim, says The Hill, in an analysis that singles out five factors influencing the politics of the issue: shifting public sentiment, pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the efforts of the National Rifle Association, the prospects of any move to impeach the president, and the time lag between tragic incidents and congressional action.

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