In remarks from a candle-lined Cross Hall at the White House, Biden recalled his visits to the memorials of recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.
“Standing there in that small town like so many other communities across America, I couldn’t help but think there are too many other schools, too many other everyday places, that have become killing fields — battlefields — here in America,” Biden said of his visit to Uvalde.
Biden had been privately considering an address on the recent mass shootings even before four people were killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Wednesday night, aides say. The discussions continued throughout Thursday morning with the President ultimately deciding to speak at the White House before he was scheduled to depart Washington for a few days.
He has been briefed three times in the last three weeks on mass shootings. He was spending time with family at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, when he was told by his homeland security adviser that 10 people had been gunned down in a grocery store in a racist attack in Buffalo, New York. He was flying back from his first trip to Asia when aides delivered the latest on a gunman opening fire on elementary school classrooms in Uvalde, Texas. And he was in Washington on Wednesday night when he received the third briefing, this time for a shooting at a medical building in Tulsa.
The remarks amount to Biden’s most fulsome speech about guns since a massacre at a Texas elementary school last week.
Since then, a string of additional mass shootings have unfolded in states across the country, including in Tulsa Wednesday. That shooting left five dead, including the gunman.
In the hours after the Texas massacre, Biden delivered an emotional seven-minute speech at the White House, calling the repeated gun killings of Americans “sick.”
“Why? Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?” he asked.
Since then, however, Biden has only selectively waded into the debate over gun control, stopping short of endorsing any specific legislative action to prevent further carnage.
On Wednesday, the President expressed scant optimism Congress would agree on new gun control legislation, even as a bipartisan group of senators meets to weigh options.
“I served in Congress for 36 years. I’m never confident, totally,” Biden said when asked whether he believed lawmakers would agree on new gun laws.
“It depends. So I don’t know,” Biden said. “I’ve not been in the negotiations as they’re going on right now.”
The lukewarm response was an indication Biden is wary of associating too closely with the nascent efforts on Capitol Hill to arrive at a gun control compromise.
While Biden said Tuesday he would speak with lawmakers about guns, the White House later said he would only become involved when the time is right.
Both Biden and his advisers have suggested they have exhausted their options on executive action to address guns, though continue to explore avenues for unilateral action.
“There’s the Constitution. I can’t dictate this stuff. I can do the things I’ve done, and any executive action I can take I’ll continue to take. But I can’t outlaw a weapon, I can’t change the background checks. I can’t do that,” he said Monday.
Speaking a day after consoling families in Texas, Biden expressed limited hope that certain Republicans, like Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and one of his top allies, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, could be convinced to support some type of new gun laws.
“I don’t know, I think there’s a realization on the part of rational Republicans, and I consider McConnell a rational Republican, Cornyn as well. There’s a recognition on their part they can’t continue like this,” he said.
McConnell has deputized Cornyn to begin talks with Democrats on some type of legislation to prevent further mass shootings, though the discussions are still in their preliminary stages.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who participated in a Wednesday bipartisan meeting on gun safety, said he and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham are in talks over changes to red flag laws and there still is “significant” work to do.
Senators are looking at strengthening state laws allowing authorities to take away weapons from individuals deemed a risk, known as red flag laws.
Blumenthal called the conversation “productive and encouraging” and said negotiators are “all speaking multiple times a day.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would bring legislation to ban military-style assault weapons to the floor next week as the chamber moves to address gun violence.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.