President Biden addressed the nation Thursday night in the wake of the mass shootings at a Buffalo supermarket, a Texas elementary school, and a hospital in Tulsa. It was only the second time during his presidency that Biden has made an evening address to the nation, not counting his speeches to a joint session of Congress. The last time he did so was in March 2021, marking the anniversary of COVID-19 taking hold in the country.
The 17-minute speech was light on promises or major breakthroughs, but he was big on emotion and what he thinks Congress should do — even though what he called for appears unlikely to happen.
Here are four takeaways from the address.
Biden feels your pain and outrage
Besides one recent exception, US presidents since Ronald Reagan have tried to add “emoter in chief” to the job role. Some have done it better than others. Biden, with his personal history of loss, has tried to use his compassion as a political asset, especially with the pandemic and now for the recent shootings.
His speech on Thursday wove in the personal grief and details of the victims and families he met with. He stood in front of 56 candles representing victims of gun violence in all states and territories.
He also repeated the word “enough” multiple times, both in reference to the number of mass shootings and the lax response from Congress to pass legislation that as many as 90 percent of Americans support.
“For God’s sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden asked.
He gave specifics on what he wants Congress to pass
While he spoke with emotion, Biden was very specific on what he wanted Congress to pass and put on his desk to sign into law.
He wants a return of a long-expired 1994 assault weapons ban. If that’s not possible, he said he wants to raise the age limit to buy assault-style weapons from 18 to 21. He called for expanded background checks before a gun is purchased. He also wants to end the special shield laws that protect gun manufacturers from being sued. In addition, he wants laws to penalize those who don’t safely store guns. He also said mental health efforts were important in addressing the problem.
He named Republicans as the problem
As his poll numbers sink and the midterm elections approach, Biden has in recent weeks called out Republicans as the problem. He did that again in this speech. He blamed Republicans for allowing the nation’s assault weapons ban to expire, which included a category that would ban the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that has been used in many mass shootings.
He then later noted that while the House of Representatives has passed a number of bills related to guns, none have come up for consideration in the Senate because of the filibuster requiring 60 votes — or at least 10 Republicans — to allow for a vote.
There are bipartisan talks taking place in the Senate. But right now, there are only six Republicans talking, and none have committed to vote on anything.
Biden, again, put the issue squarely on Republicans.
“I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republicans trying to find a way to get something done, but my God, the fact that a majority of Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote I find unconscionable,” he said.
No direct action from him personally
Gun control activists understand the political reality in the Senate. That is why they are calling for Biden to take more direct measures himself in the form of executive orders. Biden has done this before, including reclassifying some guns and banning so-called ghost guns that can be made without serial numbers on a home 3-D printer.
But those wanting action now want Biden to act now. He didn’t commit to that in this speech.