WASHINGTON – During his Thursday announcement on gun control, President Joe Biden acknowledged the work of two gun-control activists after two mass shootings in Florida — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 in 2018 and the Pulse Nightclub shooting that killed 49 in 2016.
The grief after the shootings turned Fred Guttenberg, of Parkland, and Brandon Wolf, of Orlando, into activists who are devoted to standing against gun violence and promoting gun control in both Florida and the United States. Guttenberg said they are not alone.
At the White House Rose Garden, Biden said it takes a lot of courage to come to an event related to gun control. Many of the activists in attendance, including Guttenberg and Wolf, have faced the pro-gun lobby and persistently pushed for legislative action on Capitol Hill.
“I see my friend Fred Guttenberg. His daughter Jaime was a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Biden said about the 14-year-old killed during the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. “She was an accomplished dancer.”
Guttenberg’s son was also at the school on the day of the Parkland shooting and survived.
“It kind of broke me a little bit when he mentioned my daughter,” Guttenberg said after the event.
Biden also referenced the June 12, 2016 massacre during the LGBTQ nightclub’s Latin night in Orlando. A man armed with a rifle killed 49 people and injured 53.
“I see Brandon Wolf ... he survived but his two best friends died,” Biden said.
Wolf’s friends were Drew Leinonen and Juan Guerrero. Wolf went on to become a development officer with Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it’s an international embarrassment,” Biden said.
Biden said the Gun Control Act will help his administration to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” firearms that can be assembled at home, and therefore don’t have commercial serial numbers.
“These are guns that are homemade, built from a kit that includes directions on how to finish the firearm. You can go buy the kit,” Biden said. “They have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced. And the buyers aren’t required to pass a background check to buy the kit, to make the gun.”
Biden said the Gun Control Act will also force manufacturers to make the key parts with serial numbers and run background checks on the buyers of the kits.
Biden said there is also an urgent need to regulate the sales of pistol-stabilizing braces.
“These modifications to firearms that make them more lethal should be subject to the National Firearms Act ... that a potential owner pays a $200 fee and submit their name and other identifiable information to the justice department,” Biden said. “Just as they would if they went out and purchased a silencer for a gun.”
Biden said he wants to see a national extreme risk protection order law, or red flag law, these laws allow police officers or a family member to petition the court to order firearm removal. He said he also wants legislation to incentivize states to enact their own red flag laws.
“We know red flag laws can have a significant effect in protecting women from domestic violence, and we know red flag laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans,” Biden said.
Biden said Congress can do more to help that effort if they pass the Violence Against Women Act. He also called on the Senate to close background check loopholes.
“There are many South Florida representatives who understand the evil of gun violence and have dedicated much of their careers here to doing something about it,” Guttenberg said.
Cities across the country are experiencing historic spikes in gun violence and homicides are the leading cause of death of Black males age 15 to 34, Biden said. He said the violence is having a profound impact on children.
“We should also ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines ... there is no reason why someone needs a weapon of war,” Biden said.
Biden said he also wants to end the lawsuit exemptions for gun manufacturers.
“This is just the start. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I know almost everyone seated in the garden here. None of you have ever given up. We are not going to give up now,” Biden said. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the U.S. Department of Justice is ready to work on an analysis of the modern criminal gun trafficking patterns in “a data-driven way,” publish model legislation to make it easier for states to craft red flag laws, and make available over $1 billion in grants to support evidence-based intervention strategies for reducing gun violence.
“Gun violence is not a problem that law enforcement alone can solve,” Garland said. “Communities are an essential partner, an asset, and a source of resources and ideas. Those who are closest to the problem are a critical part of solving the problem.”
Biden also announced the nomination of David Chipman as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Garland said Chipman spent 25 years “in the trenches” fighting illegal gun trafficking.
Biden’s action was limited and could face legal opposition. Despite this, Guttenberg said he was hopeful.
“This country has been moving in the wrong direction on this and the president just put the breaks on that today, and said, ‘We are going to change direction,’” Guttenberg said adding, “As a country, we’ve stood on the sidelines for too long while we all watched as gun violence kept on getting worst.”