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‘We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines’, US president tells lawmakers

‘We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines’, US president tells lawmakers

Joe Biden again pleads for limits on assault weapons after US mass shootings

  • Joe Biden urged Congress to ban assault weapons and implement other gun control measures
  • The United States has been shaken in recent weeks by the high-profile mass shootings

US President Joe Biden called for a ban on sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, pleading with Congress to toughen gun laws following a spate of mass shootings.

“We need to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” Biden said in an evening address from the White House on Thursday.

But he acknowledged that Congress is unlikely to ban the weapons, adding: “We should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21, strengthen background checks, enact safe storage laws and red-flag laws, repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability, address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma of gun violence”.

Recalling recent meetings with families of shooting victims in Texas and Buffalo, Biden said: “They had one message for all of us: Do something. Just do something. For God’s sake, do something”.

It was the president’s second prime-time address from the White House in as many weeks on the topic of gun violence, as he tries to drum up momentum for changes to gun laws after a grisly series of deadly mass shootings that have dominated headlines and sparked national outrage.

Last week, an 18-year-old man killed 19 children and two teachers at a junior school in Texas, and on Wednesday, a man killed two doctors, a staff member and a patient at a medical office in Oklahoma with a semi-automatic military-style rifle.

Families hold visitations for victims of Texas school shooting

Also on Wednesday, a grand jury indicted an 18-year-old White supremacist accused of killing 10 black people at a Buffalo, New York grocery store last month.

Biden said responsible gun owners shouldn’t be concerned that their rights will be curtailed.

“Machine guns have been federally regulated for nearly 90 years and this is still a free country,” Biden said. “This isn’t about taking anyone’s rights. It’s about protecting children. It’s about protecting families, while protecting whole communities.”

Biden spoke as a group of senators negotiate bipartisan legislation to respond to the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

The president has previously called for legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and has criticised laws that shield the firearms industry from liability for killings using their products. “The gun industry’s special protections are outrageous and must end,” he said Thursday.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill – who can block passage of bills in the Senate - have ruled out sweeping gun-control measures.

A memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: AP

And Biden’s approach risks alienating the handful of Republican senators who have engaged in talks on new legislation, though White House officials said they had consulted with the negotiators before Biden’s address.

“I support the bipartisan efforts that include small group of Democrats and Republican senators trying to find a way,” Biden said. “But my God, the fact the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated, or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable.”

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun lobby, said in a statement that Biden’s proposals “will only infringe on the rights” of law-abiding gun owners.

US Justice Department to review police response to Texas school shooting

“This isn’t a real solution, it isn’t true leadership, and it isn’t what America needs,” the group said.

While lawmakers from both parties say there’s not enough congressional support for banning military-style semi-automatic rifles like those used in the recent mass shootings, the bipartisan group in the Senate is attempting to come up with a compromise on gun legislation. The goal is a package that could attract at least 10 Senate Republicans, whose votes would be needed to get any bill passed.

The talks, led by Texas Republican John Cornyn and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, have been conducted remotely in hopes of getting an agreement before the Senate returns next week from recess.

The Buffalo shooting suspect, Payton Gendron. Photo: Reuters

Murphy said this week that proposals on red-flag laws, safe storage of firearms, mental health programmes, school safety upgrades and expanded background checks are among the measures being discussed.

Cornyn has vowed to oppose measures that would restrict gun ownership. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell - who has voted against stricter regulation of gun ownership, including expanded background checks - said Thursday at an event in Kentucky that he is “hopeful and optimistic” a compromise can be found “consistent with the Constitution and the culture of most of our country”.

A ten-year federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, and an attempt to revive it following the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago failed in the face of bipartisan opposition.

Texas shooting among deadliest school attacks in past 10 years

Polling shows strong support for additional restrictions in the aftermath of the Texas junior school shooting and ahead of November’s crucial midterm elections. Nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed in a Politico/Morning Consult poll last week said they support stricter gun control laws, with 44 per cent saying they were “strongly” in favour.

That represents an uptick, driven by Republican and independent voters, from the immediate aftermath of Buffalo shooting.

The FBI last month released data finding there were 61 “active shooter” attacks in 2021 alone, killing 103 people and injuring another 130. That was the highest annual total since 2017, when 60 people were killed during a sniper attack in Las Vegas.

The White House has said it’s also considering possible executive actions Biden could take - while cautioning that the impact of any unilateral action would likely be minimal. Biden earlier this year issued an executive order that mandated new restrictions on so-called ghost guns, which are sold in kits and assembled by consumers.

In his speech, Biden called for Congress to turn his ghost-guns order into US law.

As Biden spoke, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would raise the minimum age to purchase some semi-automatic rifles and prohibit sales of high-capacity magazines. The legislation also would restrict sales of bump stocks - a device used in a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2018 that allows a semi-automatic rifle fire more like an automatic weapon - and of large-capacity devices to feed ammunition.

The House could take up the legislation next week, though Republican leaders have lambasted the effort as an attack on the Second Amendment, and the package is not expected to pass the Senate.