President Joe Biden on Monday highlighted mass shootings at schools and other recent incidents of gun violence before some 1,700 guests on the South Lawn of the White House to commemorate the recent passage of gun-control legislation.
“Make no mistake about it: This legislation is real progress, but more has to be done,” Biden said, reiterating his calls for the restoration of a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
But an attendee who lost a son in a mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 interrupted the president at one point demanding that even more be done before he was escorted out.
The event was organized to mark the passage in June of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which denies firearms to a broader category of domestic abusers, empowers authorities to remove weapons from people judged to be dangerous, and toughens requirements for young people buying guns. Biden signed the measure on June 25.
“That’s what we owe those families in Uvalde, where an elementary school became a killing field,” the president said, referring to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in the Texas town that killed 19 children and two teachers.
Roy Guerrero, a Uvalde pediatrician who has spoken out about the horrific damage that the victims of that shooting suffered, was one of only four people to speak at the event, along with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose mother was among the 10 people killed in the racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in in Buffalo, N.Y., in May. All those killed were Black.
“It’s been tough being a pediatrician in a community where children don’t want to return to school and parents don’t want to send them there with the fear of the future attack,” Guerrero said.
Biden said the “red-flag” provision of the new law could have prevented the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed.
“How many more mass shootings do we have to see where a shooter is 17-, 18-years old and able to get his hands on a weapon and go on a killing spree?” Biden said.
The law also provides funding to address “the youth mental health crisis in this country,” the president said
“Guns are the number one killer of children in the United States,” Biden said. “More than car accidents. More than cancer. And over the last two decades, more high school children have died from gunshots than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined. Think of that. … We can’t let it happen any longer.”
A Parkland father interrupts the president and demands more be done
The event took a dramatic turn early on when a guest stood and interrupted the president after Biden said the new law was evidence “we can make meaningful progress on dealing with gun violence.”
“We have to do more than that!” said Manuel Oliver, according to the Associated Press. Oliver’s son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland shooting. “I’ve been trying to tell you this for years,” Oliver continued.
“Sit down, you’ll hear what I have to say,” Biden said when he was first interrupted. “Let me finish my comments.” Then, the president said, “Let him talk. Let him talk.” But a White House aide confronted Oliver and escorted him from the South Lawn.
Oliver said on CNN Monday that he objected to unspecified references to the event as a “celebration” of the new gun-control law, “getting together like we’re going … to a wedding today, you know, would all receive invitations. ... And meanwhile you can see these mothers [from Uvalde] that just saw how their kids were massacred inside the school.” (The White House referred to it as an event “commemorating” the law.)
Another outspoken Parkland father had a different attitude about the White House event.
“Today is a big deal,” Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, said in an interview with Education Week outside the West Wing. “Today is a day that is going to lead to really saving lives.”
Guttenberg attracted attention in the fall of 2018 when he sought to shake hands with then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing, only to be rebuffed. Kavanaugh said he was not aware Guttenberg was the father of a Parkland victim and that he would have shaken his hand.
“My daughter stands on my shoulders,” Guttenberg said Monday. “And I just know with pride, that she’s proud of what happened today, because her life will be forever attached with the idea that there will be lives saved. For my wife and I … that’s a big deal.”
After the event, Guttenberg could be seen greeting Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, and Highland Park, Ill., Mayor Nancy Rotering outside the West Wing. Biden had met with Pritzker and Rotering privately and mentioned them in his speech as they attended the Monday event one week after the mass shooting in that Chicago suburb that killed seven people during a community Fourth of July parade.