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Biden calls on Congress to act on gun control, saying 'too many' schools have become 'killing fields'

"I’ll never give up," the president said in remarks Thursday night. "If Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of American people won’t give up, either."

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden laid out specific actions he wants Congress to take on gun control legislation Thursday, calling Republican congressional opposition to the measures “unconscionable.”

In what the White House billed as a major address, Biden once again pleaded with Congress to act.

“I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republican senators trying to find a way," he said in evening remarks from the White House. "But my God — the fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find it unconscionable.”

He said lawmakers should reinstate the ban on so-called assault weapons, like AR-15s, and ban high-capacity magazines. If those weapons aren’t banned, the age to purchase them should be raised to 21 from 18.

“Why in God’s name should an ordinary citizen be able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 30-round magazines, that lets mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes?” Biden said.

Biden said Congress should also strengthen background checks, including requiring them at gun shows and in online sales; enact safe storage and red flag laws; and repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability.

He also called for actions to address mental health, including hiring more school counselors and providing other mental health services for students and teachers.

“I’ll never give up. If Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of American people won’t give up, either,” Biden said. “I believe the majority of you will act to turn outrage to make sure this issue is central to your vote. Enough, enough, enough.”

Biden spoke from the White House after another mass shooting in Oklahoma on Wednesday, when four people were killed as a gunman opened fire in a Tulsa hospital.

Biden has repeatedly pleaded with Congress to pass stricter gun control laws as a string of mass shootings stunned the country in the past few weeks. On May 24, 19 children and two teachers were killed in an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Ten days earlier, on May 14, a gunman killed 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.

Biden recounted his conversations with the families of Uvalde victims, as well as a letter from a woman who lost her grandmother, who asked him to “erase the invisible line that is dividing our nation.” He recounted that a sister of the teacher who was killed and whose husband died of a heart attack two days later had asked him what she could tell her nieces and nephews who were now orphaned.

Schools have "been turned into a killing field," Biden said of his trip to Uvalde. "Standing there in that small town, like so many other communities across America, I couldn't help but think there are too many other schools, too many other everyday places, that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America."

Biden has urged Congress to pass an assault weapons ban and legislation to require universal background checks, including for people who buy firearms at gun shows or from private sellers.

“For so many of you at home, I want to be very clear: This is not about taking away anyone’s guns. It’s not about vilifying gun owners,” Biden said. “In fact, we believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave.”

Those measures lack support in Congress, although a bipartisan group of senators has been discussing a slimmed-down package of reforms.

Biden has said that there is little left for him to do through the executive branch and that any significant reforms must come from Congress. 

Congress is considering gun violence proposals on parallel tracks. The House Judiciary Committee met Thursday to approve a package of bills, including provisions to raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 and to restrict large-capacity magazines.

But the proposals are likely to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster. Bipartisan negotiations continued this week on a more modest measure, which would include red flag laws, school safety provisions and possibly new rules for background checks.

“This isn’t about taking anyone’s rights. It’s about protecting children, protecting families. It’s about protecting whole communities,” Biden said. “It’s about protecting our freedoms to go to school, to a grocery store, to a church, not being shot and killed.”