President Joe Biden speaks at the National Safer Communities Summit
President Joe Biden led passage of the first major gun safety bill in three decades. Susan Walsh/AP

Gun Safety Groups Still Like Biden, Even If Other Progressives Don’t

There’s plenty of disappointment directed at Joe Biden by the left. But gun control advocates are largely pleased with his progress.

One by one, the advocacy groups that made up the Biden coalition have started to drift from him, frustrated with everything from his stance on Gaza to his increasingly harsh immigration talk. But gun control advocates are sticking by his side — the last man standing of the left-leaning coalition of progressive advocacy groups that Joe Biden brought together to win in 2020.

A private meeting with gun control advocates at the White House last week helps illustrate why. The advocates asked the heads of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention whether a future president could shut down the office that Biden set up to give advocates a direct line to Pennsylvania Avenue.

“If the office goes away, then our voice goes away in some aspects,” meeting attendee Dr. Chico Tillmon, the executive director of the Community Violence Intervention Leadership Academy, told NOTUS. The graduates from CVI were honored at the White House last week.

Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox, deputy directors of the office, explained that it’s not permanent. The office is just one example of what could go away if Donald Trump is elected back in office come November, gun control advocates say. And they aren’t about to take that chance.

“I think there’s zero doubt in my mind that if Donald Trump becomes the president, that office doesn’t make it past the first day,” Emma Brown, the executive director of Giffords, the gun safety advocacy group, told NOTUS.

Major gun safety groups like Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the Brady Campaign and its youth-led counterpart, Team Enough, Giffords group as well as Community Justice Action Fund and Moms Demand Action issued an early endorsement of Biden’s campaign back in August.

But advocates of curbing gun rights are growing more and more lonely in their far-reaching support for Biden among the coalition of advocacy groups he corralled in 2020.

In recent months, pro-immigration groups have publicly criticized the Biden administration for its full-throated support of the latest right-leaning but bipartisan immigration bill that would have severely restricted migration at the southern border.

“The level of frustration among the pro-immigrant advocacy communities is absolutely clear, it’s palpable,” Jorge Loweree, managing director for programs and strategy at the American Immigration Council, said of the bill, which stalled in the Senate.

Climate activists, who tend to skew younger, have voiced their disappointment with Biden for not doing enough to combat climate change. On Monday, more than 20 Sunrise Movement activists were arrested outside of Biden’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, according to local reports. They called on Biden to declare a climate emergency, something he has resisted.

Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict has severely fractured his relationship with the Arab and Muslim communities, a key bloc of voters. Some who supported him in 2020 have even launched “Abandon Biden” movements to organize their constituents to leave the top of the ticket blank.

And on abortion, an important issue that the campaign hopes to use as a motivator to drive voters to the polls, many advocates have criticized Biden for not doing enough to ensure access to health care once Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2022. “There are a lot more advocates who are frustrated and unhappy with him on a range of different issues. But they are unable to say what they think,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, founder of We Testify, an organization that shares stories of women’s abortions.

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The Biden campaign, nodding to its of endorsements from advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, NextGen PAC, NARAL and Planned Parenthood, said the president was proud to run on a “historic agenda” filled with “hard fought progressive issues.”

“Like we did in 2020, we’ll again reassemble a broad, diverse coalition of supporters that know the stakes of this election when it comes to the issues that matter most for our economy, our rights, and the future of our planet,” said Lauren Hitt, a senior Biden spokesperson.

Still, the slow drip of dissent and frustration from these groups threatens to upend Biden’s reelection bid. And while gun safety groups have largely stuck to discussing their issue specifically, they are well aware of other criticisms.

“I understand that there is a lot of chatter right now in the ecosystem among groups that work really hard and care about the issues that they’re pushing forward,” Brown said. “I do think that the difference between this year and 2016 is that we actually know what a Trump administration looks like. Right? That really makes the stakes for everyone [clear].”

Gun safety advocates have their own frustrations with Biden, but see him as the obvious better option for voters in November.

“Do I agree with everything they’ve done? No,” Tillmon said of the administration. “But what’s the other option? Trump?”

“I can say the things that I’m working on, they have done more than any other president and I’m taking the small victories as opposed to looking at it from a space to critique it,” he added.

Biden led passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety bill in three decades; approved numerous executive orders on the storage of guns and cracking down on ghost guns; and has called on Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban.

“We’re happy because we understand what this crisis is doing in our communities across this country,” said Angela Ferrell-Zabala, the executive director of Moms Demand Action. “This is a uniquely American public health crisis. And [the White House] is taking it seriously and getting the work on this done.”

Trump, meanwhile, has vowed to reverse all the executive orders on gun control the Biden administration has put in place, which is exactly what safety advocates are afraid of.

“It’s definitely something that leaves you speechless,” said March for Our Lives spokesperson Ryan Barto of Trump. The group started after the Parkland high school shooting during Trump’s time in office. And though they don’t endorse specific candidates, they do support gun safety advocates and encourage Biden to do more like a youth summit on guns.

“Having the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is a start. The executive actions are a start. But that’s all they are. And we’re going to continue to ask for more,” Barto said, “because if [Biden] wants our support, he needs to earn it.”

Jasmine Wright is a reporter at NOTUS.