America’s classrooms, along with other ordinary spaces are too often becoming “killing fields,” President Joe Biden said in a national address Thursday night in which he called for more federal restrictions on guns.
Biden, speaking to the nation just over a week after the May 24 massacre that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, called on Congress to act swiftly in response to the shooting. He urged Congress to pass legislation that would ban assault weapons—like the semiautomatic AR-15 rifle used by the 18-year-old gunman in the Uvalde slayings—and other measures to drive down gun violence and provide better mental health resources in schools.
“There are too many other schools, too many other everyday places, that have become killing fields, battlefields, here in America,” Biden said in the primetime speech from the White House.
The Uvalde school shooting is one of 27 since the start of 2022 in which people were injured or killed, according to Education Week’s school shooting tracker. It came little more than a week after the May 14 Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store shooting in which 10 people were killed, and was followed by a hospital shooting in Tulsa, Okla., on Wednesday that killed four.
“Hundreds of family members were broken, whose lives will never be the same,” Biden said. “They had one message for all of us, ‘Do something. Just do something. For God’s sake do something.’”
In recent weeks, educators across the country have attempted to explain gun violence to their students even as they worked to reinforce a feeling of safety at school. The shootings have also stirred up debates about a school’s role in preventing violence and made educators question their own safety at work.
It has fueled concerns about teacher welfare after an already stressful couple of school years with many wondering, how much can educators withstand?
In his speech, Biden laid out the key strategies he supports for solving the country’s gun violence problem.
The president argued that Congress must reinstate the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines that it passed in the 1990’s and let expire in 2004.
“Why in God’s name should an ordinary citizen be able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 30 round magazines that let mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes?” Biden said, adding that some parents in Uvalde had to do DNA tests to identify the remains of their children because the damage from the gunshots left them unrecognizable.
More mental health support for youth
If Congress cannot pass a law banning automatic weapons, it must at least raise the age minimum for purchasing those weapons from 18 to 21, Biden said. The shooter in Uvalde waited until his 18th birthday to purchase the two assault rifles he used to murder the elementary students.
The president also called for expanded background checks to “keep guns out of the hands of felons, fugitives, and those under restraining orders,” and safe-storage laws that would punish people who don’t lock up their guns if they are used to hurt others. He urged Congress to pass a law that would remove the “liability shield” that protects gun manufacturers from being sued for the death and destruction caused by their weapons.
Biden also called for a national red flag law “so that a parent, a teacher, a counselor can flag for a court that a child, a student, a patient is exhibiting violent tendencies, threatening classmates, experiencing suicidal thoughts.”
The president said that in addition to gun restrictions, the nation’s young people need more mental health support, including more school counselors, school nurses, and more mental health services for students and teachers. He called for more volunteers to mentor young people and help them succeed as well as more privacy protections and resources to keep children safe from the harmful impacts of social media.
In the most graphic moment of his speech, Biden described one girl in the Uvalde shooting who smeared blood from her classmate on herself and laid still so that the shooter would think she had already died.
“Imagine what it will be like for her to walk down the hallway of any school again,” he said. “Imagine what it’s like for children who experience this kind of trauma every day in school, in the streets, in communities all across America. Imagine what it’s like for so many parents to hug their children goodbye in the morning not sure whether they’ll come back home. Unfortunately, too many people don’t have to imagine that at all.”
Biden acknowledged that much of the power to enact the measures he called for lies in the hands of the Congress.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed measures that would expand background checks to include nearly all gun sales and end a loophole that allows gun sales to go through without completed background checks. The House is looking to add more measures next week, including safe storage requirements, bans on high-capacity magazines, and age limits, Biden said.
The president called on Senate Republicans, 10 of whom are needed to pass gun control measures, to take action as well.
“We can’t fail the American people again,” Biden said.