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In an address to the nation, Biden renews his calls for gun control

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden wants Congress to do something about guns. He made his appeal during a special address to the nation last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's time to act for the children we've lost, the children we can save, for the nation we love. Let's hear the call and the cry. Let's meet the moment. Let us finally do something.

MARTIN: The president's speech came less than three weeks after a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., that took the lives of 10 people and nearly 10 days after the killings of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow was in the East Room last night with Biden for that address. He joins us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: We are also joined by reporter Laura Benshoff, who is in Uvalde. Good morning, Laura.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with you, Scott. What exactly is the president asking Congress to do?

DETROW: Well, he listed a lot of things that he wants to see. He urged Congress, for example, to pass a new assault weapons ban, like the one he was a key part of passing in the 1990s. Then he said, if that's not possible, then raise the legal age limit to 21 for buying assault weapons. He also called for national red flag laws, broader background checks, among other ideas. But Biden, at the end of the speech, acknowledged this current political reality and conceded a lot of these items are just non-starters in the evenly divided Senate. And that's despite the fact that so many of these proposals are broadly popular with voters across party lines.

MARTIN: How does what the president is asking for compare what is actually being negotiated in Congress?

DETROW: So the talks happening right now in the Senate are much more narrow with, really, a goal of just passing something. They're focused on things like safe storage of firearms, addressing mental health and school safety. Red flag laws are part of those talks right now. But it's more about incentivizing state-level laws than passing a national law. And it's important to remember these talks are all still pretty early. They're broad. And they're tentative right now.

MARTIN: So if that's the reality on Capitol Hill and the talks are this fragile, why come out and press for so much more if you're President Biden?

DETROW: Yeah. A White House official said this was about Biden being in the conversation, as they put it, and trying to sway the public. There was that common theme we heard at the top of, enough. But Biden also kept returning to the message he heard this weekend when he was in Uvalde, those chants and cries of, do something. But again, there's that ever-present political reality that there's not enough Republican support to do something on a lot of these areas. But Biden said he hopes voters make this a priority if it can't get done in Congress right now. But, you know, that's such a hard sell, especially at this moment when the White House is stalled on so many other big priorities despite Democratic control of Congress.

MARTIN: Right. Thanks for that, Scott. We're going to turn to NPR's Laura Benshoff, who is reporting in Uvalde, Texas. Laura, what are people there saying about President Biden's speech?

BENSHOFF: A lot of people here support the measures Biden is calling for. NPR's Laurel Wamsley spoke with people in bars and in the town square last night. And many said they agreed that it's just too easy to access the most lethal types of firearms. Hector Gonzales, who's the president of Southwest Texas Junior College here, says he supports changes like raising the legal age to buy an assault rifle to 21.

HECTOR GONZALES: I am a hunter. And I own guns. And I have several pistols and rifles. But, you know, there is no hunting purpose for a high-capacity magazine, bullets, projectiles that tumble when they impact tissue, you know? Those are made to kill and destroy.

BENSHOFF: Another person NPR spoke with said the age limit should go even higher, like 26 years old.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the effort to find accountability for the shooting in Uvalde. At least one person there is trying to take legal action, a challenge to the manufacturer of the gun that was used by the shooter, right? What can you tell us?

BENSHOFF: Yeah, that's right. In Texas, you can actually start gathering evidence before you file a lawsuit. It's called a petition for a pre-suit deposition. And there's a special ed staffer at the school who was there during the shooting who's filed this type of legal action. And the aim is really to gather information from the gunmaker, Daniel Defense, about how they advertised their AR-15-style rifles. Depending on what this petition returns, the company may be liable for marketing them in a way that is appealing to young people or appealing to people who want to commit crimes. The shooter in Uvalde was 18 and did buy his gun legally. You know, gunmakers are generally shielded from lawsuits when their products are used to commit a crime. But families from Sandy Hook had success with this type of lawsuit earlier this year, getting around that shield. And now others want to try it.

MARTIN: Just briefly, Laura, can you get us an update on where the investigation stands right now?

BENSHOFF: Information has really been dripping out. There's a state senator here, Roland Gutierrez, who held a press conference to just criticize local law enforcement. Now, he says that we should be learning more today. The Texas Department of Public Safety is supposed to share more details, which Gutierrez said he hopes will include who was inside the school during the hour before the gunman was approached. Obviously, everyone here would really like to get to the bottom of what happened. And we may not know that until a final investigation report is released at some point in the future.

MARTIN: NPR's Laura Benshoff in Uvalde, Texas. We were also joined by NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow in Washington. Thanks to you both.

DETROW: Sure thing.

BENSHOFF: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.