Democrats’ complaints on assault weapon ban ignore missed opportunity in 2009 under Obama

After the mass shooting at Robb Elementary school in Texas, Biden called for a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons.

Published: May 26, 2022 1:52pm

Updated: May 30, 2022 5:45am

Democrats had a chance to reinstate the assault weapons ban in 2009 under former President Barack Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress.

After the mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, Biden called for a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons during an address to the nation.

"When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down," Biden said. "When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong. What in God's name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone. Deer aren't running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God's sake. It's just sick."

In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which included a 10-year federal assault weapons ban that prohibited gun manufacturers from selling certain semi-automatic firearms such as AR-15s within the U.S. There was a Democratic majority in the House and Senate at that time, so lawmakers could have made the ban permanent but instead included an expiration date.

The ban expired in 2004 under then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, and a Republican-led Congress. Congress did not extend it.

Former President Barack Obama came into office in 2009 with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. Democrats had 56 seats plus 2 independent senators who caucused with the Democrats. In the House, Democrats had a majority of 255 seats. The Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare" quickly became the focus of the Democratic agenda, and Congress did not resurrect the federal assault weapons ban.

Looking back on that time window, Democrats such as Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva have described the lack of action on a federal assault weapons ban as a missed opportunity.

"I think we had an opportunity four years after 2004 under Bush, where it was undone — that was my first year," he said in July 2016. "In 2009, during that period which we had the majority all around, there was an opportunity to incrementally, if not all at once, reinstate the ban. We didn't, and hindsight is all it's worth — hindsight. I think it's something we should have done."

In April, Biden announced an executive action related to ghost guns. In the past, he has opposed issuing an executive order related to semi-automatic weapons.

During a 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate, then-candidate Kamala Harris suggested resurrecting the assault weapons ban through executive order. Biden, at that time a candidate for the presidency, rejected Harris' idea.

"Let's be constitutional," Biden said to Harris. "We've got a Constitution."

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