After two mass shootings in less than a week, President Biden said he did not need to “wait another minute” to address the epidemic of gun violence, calling on the Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to close background check loopholes.
So on Thursday, at the first news conference of his presidency, Mr. Biden left gun control advocates dumbstruck and disappointed when he said the key to legislative success was ordering priorities, and that infrastructure — not guns — was next on his list.
“I’m disappointed he has the nerve and audacity to say he’s going to do things in sequential order,” said Maisha Fields, the vice president of organizing for Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group, on a group conference call Friday morning. “It’s out of order to have to bury your child. It’s out of order to be shopping for eggs and to have your life disrupted.”
At his news conference, Mr. Biden was asked specifically about his plans for gun legislation or executive actions on guns. In response, he pivoted to a lengthy explanation of why infrastructure was a bigger priority.
“The next major initiative is, and I’ll be announcing it Friday in Pittsburgh in detail, is to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure of this country,” he said.
To some, the response was a pragmatic approach for a president dealing with crises on multiple fronts and a blockade of opposition by Republicans to any gun control measures.
But gun control advocates said they were appalled by his shift in tone on guns from a year ago, when Mr. Biden said on the campaign trail that “every day that we do nothing in response, it is an insult to the innumerable lives across this nation that have been forever shattered by gun violence.”
“I was very frustrated that he pivoted to infrastructure week,” said Igor Volsky, the founder of Gun Down America. That the administration successfully passed a $1.9 trillion rescue plan with no Republican support has only added to his frustration.
“We saw what they can do when they hit the gas pedal,” Mr. Volsky said. “They got it across despite unanimous opposition. That’s the kind of leadership we need to see on this issue.” The House passed two gun control bills earlier this month but they are languishing in the Senate in the face of Republican opposition.
Greg Jackson, an organizer with the Community Justice Action Fund, said, “This crisis is beyond any other crisis we’ve seen.”
Notably absent from the chorus of disapproval was Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the most influential gun violence prevention organizations in the country. “It’s unfortunate they’re not here,” Ms. Fields said, while also noting that each group has its own lane and role to play in a shared mission. John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown, has been pressuring Mr. Biden to act immediately, so far without openly criticizing him for a delay.
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Po Murray, chairman of the Newtown Action Alliance, said one of the biggest issues is the administration’s apparent inconsistency on the issue. “Their messaging has been so inconsistent and we’re trying to figure out what’s happening here,” she said. “We pushed for it, we supported him, we expected a better response after the election.”
For now, the administration has been working on three executive actions on guns but has yet to roll them out. One would classify as firearms so-called ghost guns — kits that allow a gun to be assembled from pieces — requiring sales be subject to background checks. Another would fund community violence intervention programs, and the third would strengthen the background checks system, according to congressional aides familiar with the conversations.