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Jill Biden leans into her personal experience, making an appeal against gun violence

Dr. Jill Biden leaned into her personal experience as an educator and as first lady on Tuesday as she spoke out sharply against gun violence and called for further action.

“I don’t want to have to put my hand on another cross with an 8-year-old’s name. We have to change this,” Biden told advocates at the National Parent Teacher Association’s legislative conference.

Biden named several young victims of gun violence, using her platform to make a commonsense appeal on what’s long been a politically charged issue sparking deep division. There have been 70 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, and 2,036 since her husband, President Joe Biden, took office, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Jill Biden has typically joined the president when he’s visited communities in the aftermath of mass shootings, including the May 2022 massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

“The number of children that we have lost to gun violence is unfathomable. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story: they don’t tell us of their loved ones who must live with a black hole of grief inside of them who are ever-trapped in that gravity. They don’t tell us of the classmates or the co-workers who saw the blood, who heard the shots ring out, who wake up each night in a sweat, dreaming of running and running and running. Behind those numbers are the students who know how to hide before they can spell,” the first lady said.

She continued, “As a teacher, I’ve imagined the same in my own classroom more times than I can count. At the start of each semester – and I know all of you know this – the first day, I explain to my students what to do if the worst happens. We all feel the ripple effects. We’ve all lost a piece of ourselves, our scrutiny, our hope, our trust in one another.”

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 29, 2022. - Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 29, 2022. - Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Biden – one of the president’s top surrogates, a trusted partner, and perhaps the person who knows him best – is juggling teaching with her official duties as first lady, telling the PTA conference that she had just given her class midterm exams earlier in the day. She is also actively hitting the campaign trail for her husband, making a four-state battleground swing last weekend as she courted women voters and delivered a clear message on former President Donald Trump.

But she kept the focus on the scourge of gun violence Tuesday, warning, “We can’t let this keep happening.”

Biden pointed to a series of executive actions her husband has taken on the issue; the creation of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention; the gun safety law passed by Congress; and investments in mental health programs, community violence prevention and school security.

“These changes will save lives, but they’re not enough. We need to pass universal background checks. We need laws that make sure guns are stored safely so children can’t pick them up off a nightstand or take them out of a drawer. And we have to ban assault weapons nationally now,” she said to applause.

Biden’s remarks may offer a preview of one of the many topics the president could cover later this week as he delivers the State of the Union address, marking one of his most closely watched moments before the November election.

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