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'It is saving lives': Biden touts bipartisan gun law enacted after Uvalde shooting

At a national gun policy summit, the president said that more action was needed to address gun violence nationwide, including a new assault weapons ban.
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Speaking to advocates and survivors of gun violence on Friday, President Joe Biden touted bipartisan legislation he signed into law a year ago but said further action was needed to address the issue.

"It’s an important first step," Biden said of the measure enacted in the wake of the Uvalde school massacre.

“I know it feels like it isn’t enough when you turn on the news and see another tragedy at a school or a grocery store, a parade or a place in America. Honestly, I feel like that was well,” the president said in remarks that lasted about 30 minutes at the National Safer Communities Summit at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn.

Biden highlighted aspects of the 2022 law known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — considered the most sweeping measure aimed at preventing gun violence in 30 years.

The law has allowed the Department of Justice to run enhanced background checks through the FBI on adults under 21 who try to buy a firearm, Biden said. It has also provided funding to states to expand so-called red flag laws that allow courts to temporarily remove a firearm from a person if they're deemed a danger to themselves or others. And it has provided money to states to boost mental health services, especially for young people.

Biden also noted that the law closed the so-called boyfriend loophole by keeping guns away from unmarried dating partners convicted of abuse.

"If this law had been in place a year ago, lives would have been saved," Biden said. "It's in place now and it is saving lives today."

The president reiterated his call for Congress to pass a new assault weapons ban, similar to one he helped usher into law as a senator in 1994 that expired 10 years later. But he acknowledged that the chances of that happening now are slim.

"Let me be clear about something," Biden said. "If this Congress refuses to act, we need a new Congress."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has not committed to bringing an assault weapons ban bill to the floor, in part to protect vulnerable Democrats from having to take difficult votes ahead of the 2024 election.

On Friday, Biden expressed confidence that efforts to enact more gun laws would ultimately be successful, despite the uphill battle in Congress.

"We will ban assault weapons in this country. We will ban multi-round magazines. We will hold gun makers liable. We will beat the gun industry," he said.

The bipartisan gun bill signed into law last June came just days after the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution provides a right to carry guns outside the home — a major decision that has led to a flurry of challenges to longstanding laws, both federal and state, with some judges finding certain firearm restrictions unlawful.

Biden, meanwhile, has tried to leverage potential new executive authorities from the gun safety law to strengthen the national background check system. In March, he directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to “clarify the definition of who is engaged in the business of dealing in firearms” — a step that could bring about changes to the background check system after lawmakers fell short in an effort to pass related legislation after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

However, the White House and Justice Department have not provided an update on when Garland might issue that new definition.

The Biden administration is still implementing other parts of the law, including new grants that the Justice Department announced Thursday that are meant to help state record repositories and state courts find ways to make a greater share of eligible records available to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Those grants, the DOJ said, will help states "by improving and modernizing outdated state records systems and procedures, converting records into electronic form, and capturing new data." It's expected that "more complete, accurate, and timely records will become available in these systems, including the additional criminal history, mental health, and juvenile information," the release said.

On Friday, the departments of Education and Health and Human Services were expected to send a letter to governors outlining available resources from the mental health investments provided under the law.