WASHINGTON — Invoking his own personal loss and the collective grief of a shaken nation, President Biden spoke from the White House on Tuesday night with anger and sadness at the slaughter of 19 children by a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, earlier in the day.
Two adults were also reportedly killed in the attack, but it was not clear if that total includes the attacker, who was fatally shot by law enforcement.
“Where in God’s name is our backbone?” Biden asked, lashing out gun manufacturers whom he blamed for preventing the passage of gun laws that polling suggests most Americans support. “It’s time to turn this pain into action.”
And he spoke of his own pain too, alluding to the loss of his first wife and baby daughter, in a 1972 car crash, and the 2015 death of son Beau from brain cancer. “To lose a child, it’s like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There’s a hollowness in your chest, you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out, suffocating” Biden said.
“It’s never quite the same.”
Biden was returning from his trip to Asia when the shooting took place, in a predominantly Hispanic community outside of San Antonio. Shortly before he left, a gunman killed 10 people in Buffalo in a racist attack against the city’s Black community. The president had traveled to Buffalo before departing for Asia. Now, back in Washington, he was dealing with a new tragedy.
“I’d hoped when I became president, I would not have to do this again,” he said of the all-too-familiar ritual of a president having to address the nation after a mass shooting.
He recalled visiting, in his capacity as vice president to Barack Obama, the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where in 2012 a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. There have been more than 900 school shootings since Sandy Hook, he noted.
“And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage,” he said.
The setting was not right for legislative specifics, but Biden pointed out that the assault weapons ban, which expired under President George W. Bush, had led to a decrease in mass shootings.
“What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?” he wondered, with first lady Jill Biden, dressed in funereal black, standing behind him in the Roosevelt Room.
“I’m sick and tired of it,” he said. “We have to act.”