Declaring “Enough, enough!”, US President Joe Biden has urged Congress to ban assault weapons, expand background checks and implement other sensible gun control measures to address a string of mass shootings that have struck the US.
Speaking from the White House in a speech broadcast live in prime time across the US, Mr Biden asked a country stunned by the recent shootings of school children in Texas, at a medical building in Oklahoma and at a Buffalo, New York, grocery story how much it would take.
“For god’s sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?” he said on Thursday night (local time).
His plea came as two people died in a shooting outside a church in Iowa. The shooter also died in the attack outside the Cornerstone Church, on the outskirts of Ames, the Story County Sheriff’s Office said.
Mr Biden, a Democrat, called for several measures that have historically been blocked by Republicans in Congress, including raising the age at which adults can buy guns and repealing the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers from being sued for violence perpetrated by people carrying their weapons.
“We can’t fail the American people again,” Mr Biden said, pressing Republicans to allow bills including gun control measures to come up for a vote.
He also urged a return to the 1994 nationwide ban on assault weapons. It was imposed under then-president Bill Clinton, also a Democrat, and allowed to lapse under subsequent Republican presidents.
“We need to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21,” Mr Biden said.
The US, which has a higher rate of gun deaths than any other wealthy nation, has been shaken in recent weeks by the high-profile mass shootings at a grocery story in New York, an elementary school in Texas that killed 19 children, and a medical building in Oklahoma.
Gun safety advocates have pushed Mr Biden to take stronger measures on his own to curb gun violence. But the White House wants Congress to pass legislation that would have more lasting impact than any presidential order.
A US House of Representatives committee was working on a bill on Thursday aimed at toughening national gun laws. However, the measure has little chance of passing the Senate.
Mr Biden’s speech aimed to put further pressure on lawmakers and keep the issue at the forefront of voters’ minds. More than 18,000 people have died from gun violence in the US already this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.
Canada, Australia and Britain passed stricter gun laws after mass shootings, banning assault weapons and increasing background checks. America has experienced two decades of massacres in schools, stores and places of work and worship without any such legislation.
A broad majority of American voters, both Republicans and Democrats, favour stronger gun control laws, but Republicans in Congress and some moderate Democrats have blocked such legislation for years.
Mr Biden has called on Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and pass measures to require universal background checks for those who purchase guns.
After the Texas shooting, he urged the country to take on the powerful pro-gun lobby that backs politicians who oppose such legislation.
The Senate is split, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Any law must have 60 votes to overcome a manoeuvre known as the filibuster, meaning it would need rare bipartisan support.
Advocates have expressed cautious optimism that lawmakers will coalesce around some gun control measures. If not, they plan to make it a rallying cry in the November midterm elections.
In a statement released shortly after the speech, the National Rifle Association pushed back at Mr Biden’s proposals. It accused him of promoting policies that “infringe on the rights” of law-abiding Americans – and pointed to what it said was a “critical mental health crisis”.
“Instead of acting on functional measures and real solutions that when implemented will reduce crime and will help those with dangerous behavioural health issues, all that the President repeatedly proposes will only infringe on the rights of those law-abiding who have never, and will never, commit a crime,” it said.
“This isn’t a real solution, it isn’t true leadership, and it isn’t what America needs.
“And, that’s a shame.”
– with AAP