Biden demands strong gun measures, says lawmakers can't fail Americans again

US President Joe Biden speaking about the recent mass shootings from the White House in Washington on June 2. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Declaring "Enough, enough!" US President Joe Biden on Thursday (June 2) 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 United States.

Speaking from the White House, in a speech broadcast live on primetime TV, Mr Biden asked a country stunned by the recent shootings of schoolchildren in Texas, at a medical building in Oklahoma and at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store how much it would take.

"For God's sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?" he asked.

The President, a Democrat, called for a number of 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.

"We need to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines."

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, Mr Biden said: "They had one message for all of us: Do something. Just do something. For God's sake, do something."

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 on Thursday was working on a Bill aimed at toughening national gun laws, though the measure has little chance of passing the Senate.

Mr Biden's evening address was aimed at putting further pressure on lawmakers and keeping the issue at the forefront of voters' minds. He has made only a handful of evening speeches from the White House during his term, including one on the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021 and one about the Texas shooting last week.

More than 18,000 people have died from gun violence in the US in 2022, including through homicide and suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.

Canada, Australia and Britain all passed stricter gun laws after mass shootings in their countries, 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.

Prices of shares in gun manufacturers rose on Thursday.

Efforts to advance gun control measures have boosted firearm share prices after other mass shootings as investors anticipated that gun purchases would increase ahead of stricter regulations.

Mr Biden has called on Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and pass measures to require universal background checks for those who buy guns.

In the aftermath of 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, and a law must have 60 votes to overcome a manoeuvre known as the filibuster, which means any law would need rare bipartisan support.

"The only room in America where you can't find more than 60 per cent support for universal background checks is on the floor of the US Senate," said Mr Christian Heyne, vice-president for policy at Brady, a gun violence prevention group.

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.

While Mr Biden and Congress explore compromises, the Supreme Court is due to decide a major case that could undermine new efforts to enact gun control measures while making existing ones vulnerable to legal attack.

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