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Biden heralds his efforts to strengthen gun laws hours after son convicted on firearms charges

<i>Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>President Joe Biden
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
President Joe Biden

By Michael Williams, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday heralded the steps his administration has taken to strengthen the country’s gun laws and enhance the penalties for those who violate them, in what was an awkward political moment for a man whose son had been convicted just hours earlier on federal gun charges.

Speaking at an Everytown for Gun Safety event under a banner that read “Gun Sense University” in large block letters, the president did not reference his son’s conviction. Hunter Biden was pronounced guilty earlier in the day of three felony charges after a jury found he lied on a form by saying he was not abusing drugs when he purchased a firearm in 2018.

Instead, speaking as someone who has had two children die prematurely, he spent much of his remarks reflecting on personal loss and saying that he empathized with those in the audience who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

“Never give up on hope,” the president told the audience.

While Biden did not reference his son’s conviction on stage Tuesday afternoon, it was sure to be at the top of his mind. Biden is known to be passionately defensive of his family and sensitive to outside criticism of his son’s troubled history.

The president rearranged his schedule to leave directly from the gun-safety event for Wilmington, where his son remains after the jury there convicted him. The White House cancelled a previously scheduled press briefing that was to take place Tuesday afternoon.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the timing of Biden’s address and his son’s federal trial Tuesday morning.

While Biden has largely avoided commenting on his son’s trial – he said in an interview last week that he would respect the trial’s outcome and would not pardon his son – the outcome of the jury’s verdict is sure to be at the top of his mind on Tuesday. The president is known to be passionately defensive of his family and sensitive to outside criticism of his son’s troubled history.

“As I said last week, I am the President, but I am also a Dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today,” Biden said in a statement following the verdict. “So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery. As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

The painful moment for the Biden family comes a day before President Biden is expected to leave for a three-day trip to Italy for the G7 summit. The fluke of scheduling speaks to the balance Biden has been forced to strike throughout his son’s legal proceedings. As the trial was underway last week, Biden was in France commemorating D-Day.

Aides said the president was keeping track of the trial from overseas, and remained in touch with his son and first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who had returned to Delaware to attend the trial for one day.

Before and after that trip, Biden spent a sizable amount of time with Hunter in Delaware. He returned from France directly to the family home in Wilmington.

He’ll attempt to put the personal drama on the back-burner while he talks about gun violence, a topic that he views as key to his political life.

As a senator, the president helped get an assault weapons ban passed through Congress in the 1990s and has promised to do so again. He also frequently touts signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was the first significant gun safety legislation in a quarter-century when it was passed.

That act, which was signed into law by Biden almost two years ago, was created in the wake of massacres at a Texas elementary school and a New York supermarket. It established new criminal offenses for the straw-purchasing of firearms by buyers who lie about the gun’s intended owner, among other provisions.

“It’s the most significant gun legislation in nearly 30 years, and we passed it only because you got out and worked like hell to get it done,” Biden said Tuesday. “I may have had the idea, but you got it made, you made it happen. It was designed to reduce gun violence and save lives, and I’m so proud of the tremendous progress we’ve made since then.”

Absent from Biden’s comments Tuesday, however, was an announcement that the Department of Justice had brought more than 500 new gun charges using statutes under the bipartisan gun law. The White House had previewed the announcement to reporters ahead of the speech, but Biden instead opted to more broadly focus on it.

The White House declined to comment on why the reference to the volume of prosecutions did not appear in the speech, pointing to the overarching message in the address.

“The President highlighted the progress his Administration has made reducing crime and getting illegal guns off our streets,” a White House spokesperson told CNN.

Biden has pushed for universal background checks of gun purchases, increased red-flag laws that allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from those deemed a threat to safety, and a ban on assault weapons. He has said he would make those efforts a priority if he were to attain a second term.

But most of those policies would include congressional cooperation, and gun control remains one of the most divisive and intractable topics in American politics.

Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has promised to roll back any gun-control advancements made during Biden’s term. Addressing the NRA convention in May, Trump said the rights of gun owners were “under siege” and urged them to vote in November.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Kayla Tausche and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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