NBC News- WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for tightening gun control laws in the wake of a mass shooting Monday at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, less than a week after 8 people were killed during a shooting spree in Atlanta.
Speaking at the White House before leaving for Columbus, Ohio, Biden suggested that he may take executive action on gun violence.
"As president I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal to keep people safe," he said.
Biden said that while he won't speculate about the circumstances of the shooting because a lot remains unknown about the case.
Speaking about the officer who was killed Monday in Boulder, Biden said, "He thought he would be coming home to his family and seven children, but when the moment came, Officer Talley did not hesitate in his duty, making the ultimately sacrifice to save lives, that’s the definition of an American hero."
Biden called on the Senate to "immediately pass" two recent House-passed bills that aim to reduce gun violence.
As vice president, Biden had been tapped by President Barack Obama to work on efforts to pass strong gun control measures through Congress, which were unsuccessful. In 2016, Obama signed a series of executive actions that would target the "gun show loophole" by clarifying who is engaged in the business of selling firearms.
Democrats in Congress are demanding legislative action on guns following the two most recent shootings, likely a futile effort as lawmakers remain at odds over how to curb the violence.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Democrats called for expanding background checks and more restrictive gun laws and Republicans immediately voiced opposition. The hearing, about measures to address gun violence, was scheduled before Monday’s shooting.
Judiciary Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that in addition to a moment of silence, he’s calling for “a moment of action.”
“Prayer leaders have their important place in this, but we are Senate leaders. What are we doing? What are we doing other than reflecting and praying? That's a good starting point. That shouldn't be an end point,” said Durbin, who said that there were 20 people shot in the city of Chicago last weekend.
“We won't solve this crisis with just prosecutions after funerals. We need prevention before shooting,” he added.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., whose state grappled with the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, said now is the time for real action now, “not the fig leaves or the shadows that have been offered on the other side, along with hopes and thoughts and prayers.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted that Boulder banned assault weapons in 2018, but a court blocked the ban 10 days ago.
Republicans criticized Democrats' calls for tougher gun laws, arguing that they are trying to take away people's Second Amendment rights with proposals that won't solve the violence problem.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member on the committee, said argued that the rise in violence results from "defunding" the police.
“We can't reduce violence in our communities without a professional well-trained and fully funded police force. This includes gun violence,” he said. “The rallying cry during the riots last summer was defund the police. Cities that followed that advice saw a rapid spike in violent crime.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lambasted Democrats for pushing the same legislation every time a mass shooting occurs, arguing the measures would do nothing to stop them.
“Every time there's a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” he said. “What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law abiding citizens, because that's their political objective.”
Cruz said he and Grassley will reintroduce a bill that would criminalize straw purchasing of firearms — when someone buys them on behalf of someone who is prohibited by law — and gun trafficking. The bill would also improve and reauthorize grants for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
President Obama, who was unsuccessful in fighting for gun control measures in the wake of countless mass shootings during his two terms in office, released a statement Tuesday calling on elected officials to take action because, "this is a normal we can no longer afford."
"We should be able to go to school, or go out with our friends, or worship together without mentally planning our escape if someone shows up with a gun. We should be able to live our lives without wondering if the next trip outside our home could be our last," Obama said. "It will take time to root out the disaffection, racism and misogyny that fuels so many of these senseless acts of violence. But we can make it harder for those with hate in their hearts to buy weapons of war."
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday that Congress must approve the recently House-passed legislation to address gun violence.
“For the second time in a week, our nation is being confronted by the epidemic of gun violence," Pelosi said in a statement. "Too many families in too many places are being forced to endure this unfathomable pain and anguish. Action is needed now to prevent this scourge from continuing to ravage our communities."
Vice President Kamala Harris said of the latest shooting, "It's absolutely baffling, it's 10 people going about their day living their lives, not bothering anybody. A police officer who is performing his duties, and with great courage and heroism," referring to the officer who was killed when responding to the scene.
In an interview on "CBS This Morning," Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., said he felt “a great deal of anger and frustration right now" and "the time for inaction is over."
"It does not have to be this way," he said. "There are commonsense gun reform legislation proposals that have been debated in the Congress for far too long.”
Neguse said the gun lobby and others have stopped Congress from making "meaningful reforms in the past but that's no excuse."
"I think the American people are tired of excuses, so it's time for us to roll up our sleeves in the Congress and muster the political willpower to actually get something done,” he said.
These comments come just days after another mass shooting at three Atlanta-area spas left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent.
President Joe Biden addressed the spate of anti-Asian American violence Friday during a trip to Atlanta, calling the "brutality" against them "troubling." The president highlighted the incident as yet another example of how gun violence has become a national public health crisis.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters after the Atlanta shootings that it's "a personal commitment of the president to do more on gun safety, to put more measures in place, to use the power of the presidency to work with Congress.”
Biden supports a pair of bills passed by the House earlier this month that would expand background checks for gun purchases. One measure would require the checks for nearly all gun purchases, including transactions involving unlicensed or private sellers. The other bill aims to close the “Charleston loophole," which allows the sale of firearms to proceed if background checks aren’t completed within three days, by expanding the review period to 10 days.
The bills passed the House in the last Congress as well, but they were not taken up by the then-Senate Republican majority.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has promised to put the bills to a vote, but Democrats would need support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster in the evenly divided Senate, which is unlikely for the measures in their current form.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a longtime defender of the filibuster, suggested last week that she would be willing to change the process if it allowed for passage of legislation to address gun violence.
The last time Democrats were close to passing gun control legislation was in 2013 following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when they held the the House and the Senate and the White House under President Barack Obama.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., authored a bill that would have required background checks on all commercial gun sales, but the measure fell six votes short of passing.