In address to the nation, Biden says ‘it’s time to act’ on gun safety legislation

President Biden addressed the nation Thursday, urging Congress to take action on gun violence. It was his second national address in 10 days after mass shootings in New York, Texas, Oklahoma and beyond. He called for banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, among other measures. The Washington Post's Leigh Ann Caldwell and NewsHour's William Brangham join Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    President Biden addressing a nation that is once again traumatized by horrific gun violence. The president there was flanked by 56 candles, the White House says, "representing each US state and territory." President Biden pressing, encouraging, calling for Congress to do something on gun control. He talked about how he visited with the grieving families in Buffalo and evolved. He said in both towns what people told him, what the families told him, was that they wanted Congress to do something. The president said after Newtown, after Parkland, after Columbine, nothing has been done this time, he says, must be different. I want to bring in my colleagues NewsHour correspondent William Brangham. And here with me in the studio is Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post. And William, I want to go to you first because President Biden talked about red flag laws. He encouraged Congress to to pass incentives for states to institute these red flag laws, which, as you know, are controversial among gun rights groups who say that they infringe upon people's right to due process. Help us understand how these laws work and why there's been so much pushback to them.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Jeff. I mean, the way the president described it, he accurately portrayed what it is, which is creating some kind of a mechanism so that if a family member, a parent, a son, a neighbor even recognizes that someone is in some sort of mental health crisis and they have guns, that there's a mechanism for them to appeal to law enforcement, to contact police, to contact a court, and then through a process of signing affidavits, they can say, look, we're worried about this person in our lives. They have these weapons and we are appealing to you to temporarily take those guns away from them. And the judge then has to look at the evidence and say, okay, this meets this criteria. It's different in a lot of the different states. There's 19 states that have these and their rules are a little bit different. But then a judge would then say, okay, for a period of time, we will take this person's guns away from them. There's an appeals process to that. There are there are ways that the person who's lost their weapons can be appealed. But that is the basic idea. The president used the example of Uvalde. If someone in that shooter's family, his sister, his mother, his grandmother, who we know was shot, had appealed to authorities, Texas doesn't have this law, but in that example, that would have been the kind of moment. The opposition to these, as the president noted and you did as well, Geoff, is that the staunchest gun rights groups in the country think that this is an inappropriate use of allowing a family member or even a court, unelected court, as they would like to put it, that it supersedes a constitutional right and that there's no due process really built into the to the system and that it's unacceptable. We have seen in the past that those groups have pressured, last year when there was a red flag law being debated with regards to service members in the military, those groups pressured House Republicans, and they backed off of that. Representative Dan Crenshaw, who represents Texas, has said you're basically punishing someone for a crime that they haven't committed yet. So it may sound commonsensical, but there is a great deal of opposition to this. And these will face with all of these bills that he's talking about, a very, very steep road ahead.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And Leigh Ann to William's great point that this sounds like common sense and we should say Republicans, some elected Republicans have supported red flag laws to include Marco Rubio who introduced red flag legislation after the Parkland School shooting, twice introduced it on the Senate floor, it never got a vote. But I'll also say that among the things that President Biden talked about tonight, he said he wants to ban assault weapons. That's likely not to move forward on the Hill right now. But he said if he can't do that, raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21. He talked about background checks, talked about red flag laws, of course. He called for a safe storage measure and also talked about more funding for mental health. Of that sort of menu of ideas, that bipartisan Senate group, a lot of this is what they're considering right now.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:

    Some of it is what they're considering, including the red flag laws or at least incentives for states, the background checks, the mental health component, safety in schools. But the things that they aren't considering are, like you said, the assault weapons ban, raising the age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21. And one thing that President Biden said that I actually wasn't expecting tonight is rolling back immunity for gun manufacturers in these atrocious crimes, something that Congress has given gun manufacturers that immunity. And so but there is a subset that the Senate negotiators are working on. Senator Chris Murphy, throughout this process, which is only lasted about five days now, has been extremely optimistic. He says he's much more optimistic than any time that he has worked on gun legislation since Sandy Hook. He's from Connecticut. He represents Sandy Hook, and so he's moving forward. We'll see where this goes. Their goal is to have legislation agreed upon by next week to hopefully come to the floor. But it's still a very tall task.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And William, on this specific question of red flag laws, based on your reporting, based on the folks that you've talked to, are they effective? Do they work in the minute and 15 seconds that we have left?

  • William Brangham:

    It's hard to prove a negative. You can't say, "well, because we stop this person from speeding, they then didn't get into a crash 5 minutes later down the highway." But in the states that have used these, the data that I have seen, there are plenty of examples where a family has appealed to a court. The court said, you're right, there is the person in your life who is in distress. We are going to take those guns away from them. In the example of Colorado, which I've looked at most recently, there have been very few instances that the things that the critics worry about that there would be abuse, that a neighbor would call in and report someone just because they didn't like them. Those cases are very, very rare. And in fact, when people have been caught trying to use the laws inappropriately, they get punished for those things. So, again, it's hard to know exactly. Can we demonstrate to say 100% this person would have committed suicide or killed someone because of these laws? It's not clear, but there are plenty of instances where courts have looked at these and said this was a good idea. We shouldn't take weapons away from someone temporarily.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    William Brangham and Leigh Ann Caldwell, thanks so much for your reporting and your insights.

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