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President Biden touts gun safety legislation, but critics say he's not doing enough

Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland mass shooting, interrupts President Joe Biden as he speaks at an event celebrating the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday.
Chip Somodevilla
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Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland mass shooting, interrupts President Joe Biden as he speaks at an event celebrating the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday.

Updated July 11, 2022 at 8:23 PM ET

President Biden held a formal bill signing ceremony Monday for the bipartisan gun control bill, which was passed in the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The bill had been signed into law in late June, but Monday's ceremony was a chance for the president to dig in his heels on gun reform. He emphasized that while the bill is an important step, there's still more work to be done.

"Will we match thoughts and prayers with action? I say yes, and that's what we're doing here today," Biden said, but he added that more could be done, including passing a national assault weapons ban.

The crowd at the White House for the president's remarks was made up of gun control activists and allies, but not everyone was standing firm with Biden. In the middle of the president's speech, Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed at the Parkland school shooting in 2018, stood up and said Biden needed to do more when it came to action on gun violence.

"We've already gone through this for years and years," Oliver said. He was escorted away from the event afterward.

A majority of Democrats want a different nominee in 2024

The incident at the White House Monday highlights the wider tensions Biden faces from some in his party, especially in a tight midterm elections year.

A poll from the New York Times/Siena College released Monday puts Biden's approval rating at just 33%. And 64% of Democratic voters say they want someone else at the top of the ticket in 2024.

The numbers get worse for Biden among younger voters. For those under the age of 30, 94% said they want a different Democratic nominee in the next presidential election.

Some Democrats say Biden's response has not been urgent enough on Roe and guns

Guns aren't the only topic which Biden has faced criticism for his less-than-urgent response. Some Democrats have said the president needs to show more anger and passion.

"You have a president who — his sales pitch to the country was 'I'm going to get out the way' at a moment where the people who are part of his coalition want him to be front and center," Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist, told NPR.

In the days and weeks after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, for example, Biden's response was more muted. He faced pressure from Senate Democrats to take more immediate action.

"We can't wait days or weeks to get action for people who today need this kind of care, are sitting in their homes scared to death, worried about their own health, worried about their own economic situation, wondering what the heck they can do. Every day that goes by is one day too many," Washington Sen. Patty Murray told NPR the day after the court's decision.

It wasn't until the week after the decision that Biden said he'd support abolishing the filibuster in the Senate in order to codify Roe. And it took another week for the president to sign an executive order protecting reproductive rights.

Payne says the drawn out response from the White House was not the best move.

"It feels like you're flat-footed because it's being delivered in a staggered fashion over the course of 10 to 14 days," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Detrow
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.