President Joe Biden proposed some gun safety policies in a national address that also have received support from Gov. Jim Justice.
One of those was an increased age limit for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21. Another was increased support for mental health services.
“After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing has been done,” Biden said during a primetime national address. “This time, that can’t be true. This time we must actually do something.”
Biden pleaded with Congress to act on a range of legislation following a string of mass shootings, including at a Texas elementary school. One of his proposals was to resume a national ban on semiautomatic rifles, although he acknowledged the unlikelihood of political consensus for such broad restrictions.
“We need to ban ‘assault weapons’ and high-capacity magazines. And if we can’t ban assault weapons then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21. Strengthen background checks. Enact safe storage laws and red flag laws. Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability. Address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma and gun violence and as a consequence of that violence.
“These are rational, common sense measures,” said Biden, a Democrat.
His words were addressed not only to the American public, but also to Congress, where members of an evenly-divided U.S. Senate have been discussing what gun safety measures might have enough support for passage.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, wrote on social media following Biden’s speech that he would fight gun restrictions in the federal court system.
“As the West Virginia Attorney General, I will not allow the federal government and Biden gun control policies to run roughshod over my state. I will oppose Biden’s radical policies, I will sue his Administration, and West Virginia will win!” Morrisey wrote on Twitter.
Governor Justice this week indicated he would not support a ban on semiautomatic weapons. “The reality of this whole thing is this, just absolutely taking an aspirin for cancer is not going to do anything. It’s not going to cure anything,” Justice said this week.
Much of the governor’s emphasis over the past week has been on the effects of social factors such as violent video games, social media and pornography on the isolation of young men.
But the Republican governor seemed open to policies that would raise the age limit for possessing such weapons from 18 to 21. Justice repeated the point multiple times, although he did not say he would push for a change to state policy.
“Do I really feel like an 18-year-old ought to be able to walk in and buy an assault weapon? I don’t,” Justice said. “But from the standpoint of a 21-year-old, it’s a different thing. To me, the age ought to be 21.”
Justice also advocated for increased resources for mental health. “Absolutely, in my opinion, we should amp up the mental health programs, because there are so many problems across the country, it is off the chart,” the governor said.
He later said, “We absolutely know the mental health issues today are rampant. Why are we not doing something about it?”
Biden’s remarks were in line with the governor on that point.
“Even before the pandemic, young people were already hurting. There’s a serious youth mental health crisis in this country. We have to do something about it. That’s why mental health is the heart of my unity agenda that I laid out in the State of the Union address this year,” the president said.
“We must provide more school counselors; more school nurses; more mental health services for students and for teachers. More people volunteering as mentors to help young people succeed. More privacy protection and resources to keep kids safe from the harms of social media.”
National debate over gun safety was renewed after a spree of mass shootings, most recently the killings of nineteen elementary school students and two teachers in Texas.
The gunman in Uvalde, Texas, bought a semi-automatic rifle from a local sporting goods store the day after turning 18, authorities said. He returned days later to buy 375 rounds of ammunition and then an AR-style rifle.
The mass shooting in Texas was just a little more than a week following another where 10 people were killed in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The shooter there, also 18, used a Bushmaster XM-15, purchased from a gun store. A background check apparently came up clean even though the shooter had been ordered to take a psychiatric evaluation almost a year ago.
Across the nation, discussions have included additional support for mental health services, support to ensure entrances to schools are limited, red flag laws allowing temporary removal of weapons from people representing a danger to themselves or others, raising the legal age for gun purchases, banning high-capacity magazines or expanded background checks.
Senators have been engaging in bipartisan talks to determine the possibility of common ground.
Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., publicly expressed support for a range of policy changes, including raising the age limit for possessing semiautomatic rifles, red flag laws to temporarily remove guns from people considered a threat to themselves or others, and the kind of expanded background checks that he has previously backed.
“Yes, we’re looking at everything,” Manchin said on statewide radio. “Two things we know that could have stopped it for sure, is raising the age — a person at 18 years of age couldn’t have bought that. The second is a red flag law that we know is working in states such as Florida.”