Joe Biden was heckled by the father of a mass shooting victim at a White House event celebrating the passage of federal gun safety legislation.
The US President was delivering a speech on the South Lawn on Monday when he was interrupted by Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son Joaquin was among 14 students and three staff members killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
“We must do more than that!” Oliver shouted, among other remarks, while standing up and wearing dark sunglasses, a gray beard and a purple jacket.
At first, Biden told him, “Sit down, you’ll hear what I have to say,” but then the president relented and said, “Let him talk, let him talk, okay?
By then, however, security had already stepped in to take Oliver away.
Earlier on Monday, Oliver made it clear he objected to the event being framed as a celebration following a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at a primary school in Uvalde, in Texas on May 24.
He wrote on Twitter: “The word CELEBRATION has no place in a society that saw 19 children massacred barely a month ago.”
The confrontation underscored simmering frustration with Biden, accused of not meeting the moment not only on guns, but also on abortion, climate and other issues. A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Monday put his approval rating at 33%, with 64% of Democratic voters saying the party should nominate another presidential candidate in 2024.
The White House gave Biden the opportunity to respond to criticism by introducing the first major federal gun safety bill in three decades, which he signed into law last month. He was joined in glorious summer sunshine by survivors and family members of those killed in mass shootings in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe, Uvalde , Buffalo, Highland Park and others.
The new law includes provisions to help states keep guns away from those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It also prohibits gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners and cracks down on gun sales to buyers convicted of domestic violence.
But the scale of the challenge was unveiled when, just 16 days after the law took effect, a gunman in Highland Park, Illinois, killed seven people and injured more than 30 others during a a parade on Independence Day, fueling discontent with Oliver and other activists who want to see Biden go faster and further.
Biden hailed the law as “real progress” and said “lives will be saved today and tomorrow because of it,” but acknowledged that “more needs to be done.” He said: “It’s important, it’s important, but it’s not enough and we all know that.”
Noting how schools, places of worship and even a July 4 parade had been turned into “killing fields,” the president called for greater action from Congress, where Republicans loyal to the gun lobby have repeatedly blocked the reforms.
He reiterated his pleas for an assault weapons ban, expanded background checks on gun buyers and safe storage laws that would impose personal liability on those who do not store their guns in completely safe.
“We live in a country awash with weapons of war,” Biden said with palpable anger. “Guns are the number one killer of children in the United States, more than car accidents, more than cancer.”
He was applauded by insisting that the second amendment to the federal constitution, which protects the right to bear arms, should not replace the others. “With rights come responsibilities,” Biden said. “Yes, there is a right to bear arms.
“But we also have the right to live freely without fearing for our lives, in a grocery store, in a classroom, in a playground, in a place of worship, in a store, in a workplace, a nightclub , a festival, in our neighborhoods, in our streets The right to bear arms is not an absolute right that dominates all the others.
Among the hundreds of guests on the South Lawn were a bipartisan group of senators who crafted and supported the legislation, as well as local officials including Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotating.
But the director of the Guns Down America campaign group, Igor Volsky, was not entirely impressed with the White House’s framing of the rally.
Volsky told the Associated Press news agency: “There’s just not much to celebrate here. It’s historic, but it’s also the bare minimum of what Congress should be doing.
“And as the July 4 shooting reminded us, and there are so many other gun deaths that have happened since then. The gun violence crisis is just much more urgent.
He added: “We have a president who has really not met the moment, who has chosen to act as a spectator on this issue. For some reason, the administration absolutely refuses to have a senior civil servant who can drive this issue within the government.