With Tyre Nichols’ family watching, President Biden pleads for assault weapon ban

Andrew Nelles/AP

With the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols and the former Mayor of Monterey Park — still reeling from feeling the effects of last month’s gunfire — looking on, President Joe Biden made a passionate plea to the nation Tuesday for a new assault weapons ban and help for neighborhoods plagued by violent crime..

“I know most cops and their families are good, decent people, the vast majority. They risk their lives every time they put that shield on. But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better,” the president said to a joint session of Congress in his State of the Union address.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who grew up in Sacramento, was beaten by police after being stopped for an alleged traffic violation. He died three days later. Monterey Park was the scene of a mass shooting at a Lunar New Year celebration.

One of the remedies to stop this sort of violence, Biden said: Revive the assault weapons ban that ended in 2004.

“Ban assault weapons now. Ban them now. Once and for all,” Biden said. “We did it before….let’s finish the job and ban these assault weapons.”

Getting anything done will be a struggle, particularly now that the House is controlled by Republicans for the first time in four years.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed reviving the assault weapons ban she pushed through Congress in 1994. Since it expired 10 years later, efforts to revive it have been futile, even when Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Last year, with Democrats in charge, Congress was able to pass its first gun control legislation for the first time in about 30 years. Among its provisions were helping states approve red flag laws. Those laws permit others to ask courts to take away weapons from those considered a threat to themselves or others.

The bill also bars those convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun, including not only current and former spouses but partners.

What’s spurring a new push for change is a rash of recent mass shootings, notably in California.

Tyre Nichols’ family

On Jan. 16, six people were killed, most shot in the head, in Goshen west of Visalia.

Five days later, a gunman killed 11 people and injured nine celebrating the Lunar New Year at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. Two days after that incident, seven people were killed when a gunman opened fire at two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay.

Nichols, who died after the Memphis beating, grew up in Sacramento and moved to Memphis in 2020. His mother, RayVaughn Wells and stepfather, Rob Wells, were guests Tuesday of First Lady Jill Biden. Also in her box was Henry Lo, who until last month was mayor of Monterey Park.

As Biden cited Nichols’ family, the Wells stood, their faces largely expressionless. The lawmakers below applauded. RayVaughn Wells gently shook her head, as if to thank everyone.

“Joining us tonight are the parents of Tyre Nichols, welcome. They had to bury Tyre just last week. As many of you personally know, there are no words to describe the heartbreak and grief of losing a child,” Biden said. He lost his own son, Beau, to brain cancer eight years ago.

This is different, Biden said. “Imagine what it’s like to lose a child at the hand of the law.

Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter came home from walking down the street playing in the park or just driving their car,” he explained.

He recalled how he never had to have the talk with his three children that so many Black families have had with their children.

“I never had to tell them if a police officer pulls you over, turn your interior lights on right away. Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Imagine having to worry like that every single time your kid got in a car,” the president said.

He recalled what Nichols’ mother told him when he asked how she has the courage to keep going.

“With faith in God, she said her son was quote ‘a beautiful soul and something good will come of this,’’’ Biden said.

“Imagine how much courage and character that takes,” he said.

Monterey Park

Biden also cited Brandon Tsai, who disarmed the gunman who had killed 11 people at a Lunar New Year celebration last month. The shooter had gone to another dance hall in Alhambra, where Tsai fought him.

“Brandon put off his college dreams to stay by his mom’s side as she was dying from cancer. Brandon now works at a dance studio started by his grandparents,” Biden said, as Tsai stood in the balcony and slowly waved.

He told the story of how two weeks ago, Tsai heard the studio’s front door close. A man pointed a gun at him.

Tsai thought he was going to die, “but then he thought about the people inside,” Biden said.

“In that instant, he found the courage to act and wrestled the semi-automatic pistol away from a gunman who had already killed 11 people at another dance studio. Eleven.

“He saved lives,” Biden said. “It’s time we do the same.”