President Joe Biden is going to try to do what Barack Obama could not – finally pass effective gun control in America. When 10 people were killed in Boulder, Colorado, this week, flags were already flying at half-staff across the country in memory of the eight murdered in Atlanta last week, most of them Asian Americans.
Now, from the White House, Biden has urged Congress to try once again what Obama could not accomplish. He is calling for legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. “This should not be a partisan issue,” he said.
But it has been in Washington. In this moment of national mourning, the National Rifle Association base is deeply dug in. Over the past decade, even after the slaughter of school children in Connecticut, and teenagers in Florida, after marches and candle vigils by millions across the county, there has been no breakthrough in Congress. Although a clear majority of Americans want action, the best efforts in recent years in the Senate have never reached more than 54 votes – six short of the super majority required to pass controversial legislation.
For more than five years, President Donald Trump pounded the gun message home to his base. His defence of Second Amendment gun rights was a sacrament at every political rally to the power of the NRA in the eyes of millions of voters.
But Biden wants to get this done, even though he knows as well as anyone that Obama’s tears from the White House and while he sang Amazing Grace in a church where a white man murdered black parishioners could not wash away the votes for guns on Capitol Hill.
Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed two bills closing loopholes on both background checks and the FBI’s review of all gun buyers. Only a handful of Republicans supported them. Republicans have other priorities.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Democrat senator Raphael Warnock said: “This shooter was able to kill all of these folks the same day he purchased a firearm, but right now what is our legislature doing? They’re … trying to prevent people from voting the same day they register.”
There is one dim glimmer of hope. The NRA has been weakened. Bankrupt, infested with scandal of wild executive salaries and benefits, the organisation is in retreat. It does not have the financial resources to wage the same grassroots campaign as in previous years. And this is not an election year, giving some members of Congress more of a buffer to cast a courageous vote.
Biden has to try. The blood of the dead cries out. But likely in vain. Again.