Joe Biden has been interviewed by the father of a mass shooting victim at a White House event celebrating the passing of a federal gun safety law.
The US president was delivering a speech on the South Lawn Monday when he was interrupted by Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was one of 14 students and three staff members murdered at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 .
“We need to do more than that!” cried Oliver, among other things, standing up and wearing dark sunglasses, gray beard and purple jacket.
First Biden told him, “Sit down, you’ll hear what I have to say,” but then the president relented and said, “Let him talk, let him talk, okay?”
By then, however, security had already stepped in to take Oliver away.
Earlier on Monday, Oliver had made it clear that he objected to the event being billed as a celebration in the wake of a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.
He wrote on Twitter: “The word CELEBRATION has no place in a society where 19 children were slaughtered a month ago.”
The showdown underscored the lingering frustration with Biden, accused of not living up to the moment, not just over guns, but over abortion, climate and other issues. A New York Times/Siena College poll published Monday put his approval rating at 33%, with 64% of Democratic voters saying the party should nominate another candidate for president by 2024.
The White House gave Biden a chance to respond to critics by presenting the first major federal gun safety bill in three decades, which he signed last month. He was joined in the bright summer sun by survivors and relatives of those killed in mass shootings in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe, Uvalde, Buffalo, Highland Park and others.
The new law includes provisions to help states keep weapons out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It also bans the sale of guns to people convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners and tackles the sale of guns to buyers convicted of domestic violence.
But the scale of the challenge became clear when, just 16 days after the law went into effect, a gunman in Highland Park, Illinois, killed seven people and injured more than 30 others in an Independence Day parade, fueling Oliver and other activists who want to see Biden move faster and further.
Biden praised the law as “real progress” and said “It will save lives today and tomorrow,” but acknowledged that “more needs to be done.” He said, “It matters, it matters, but it’s not enough and we all know that.”
Noting how schools, places of worship and even a Fourth of July parade had turned into “killing fields,” the president called for more action from Congress, where Republicans loyal to the gun lobby have repeatedly blocked reforms.
He reiterated his calls for a ban on assault weapons, more extensive background checks on gun buyers, and safe storage laws that would impose personal liability on those who fail to securely store their weapons.
“We live in a country overrun with weapons of war,” Biden said with palpable anger. “Guns are the number one killer of children in the United States, more than car accidents, more than cancer.”
He received applause when he insisted that the Second Amendment to the Federal Constitution, which protects the right to bear arms, should not replace others. “With rights come responsibilities,” Biden said. “Yes, there is a right to bear arms.
“But we also have the right to live freely without fear for our lives, in a supermarket, in a classroom, in a playground, in a house of worship, in a shop, in a workplace, a nightclub, a festival, in our neighborhoods , in our streets. The right to bear arms is not an absolute right that dominates all others.”
Among the hundreds of guests on the southern lawn was a bipartisan group of senators who drafted and supported the legislation, as well as local officials, including Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.
But the director of the Guns Down America campaign group, Igor Volsky, was not entirely impressed with the way the White House framed the meeting.
Volsky told the Associated Press news agency, “There’s just not much to celebrate here. It’s historic, but it’s also the bare minimum of what Congress should be doing.
“And as we were reminded by the July 4 shooting, and there are so many other gun deaths that have taken place since then. The crisis of gun violence is simply much more urgent.”
He added: “We have a president who has really not met the moment, who has chosen to act as a bystander on this matter. For some reason, the government absolutely refuses to have a senior official who can direct this issue through the government.”