After Uvalde shootings, Biden vows to keep up pressure for gun regulation

US President Joe Biden pays respect at a makeshift memorial outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 29, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Under pressure to act after the latest US mass shooting that left 21 people dead, US President Joe Biden vowed on Monday (May 30) to push for a "more rational" approach to gun regulation in the wake of the country's latest mass shootings.

"I've been pretty motivated all along" to act on guns, Biden told reporters in Washington. "I'm going to continue to push."

He added: "I think things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it. That's my hope."

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers has been working through the Memorial Day weekend to pursue possible areas of compromise.

They reportedly were focusing on laws to raise the age for gun purchases or to allow police to remove guns from people deemed at risk – but not on an outright ban on high-powered rifles like the weapon used last Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas or the one used 10 days earlier in Buffalo, New York.

A day earlier, the President visited the Texas town of Uvalde, where grieving mourners were holding their first wakes for 19 children and two teachers killed by a teen gunman last week in a shooting at their elementary school.

The first funerals are set for Tuesday, with others scheduled through mid-June. The huge number of victims, many with horrific wounds, has left the town’s two funeral homes turning to embalmers and morticians from across Texas for help.

One anonymous donor has pledged US$175,000 (S$240,000) to help cover funeral costs, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

At one of the funeral homes – just across the street from Robb Elementary School where the shooting occurred – friends, family and strangers attended a closed-casket visitation for 10-year-old shooting victim Amerie Jo Garza. Pictures of the young girl decorated the space.

Ms Esther Rubio, who described the scene as “very sombre,” came from nearby San Antonio with her husband.

“I don’t know what else to say, because there’s no words to describe (it),” she said.

The massacre was the deadliest school attack since 20 children and six staff were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

It came less than two weeks after another mass shooting, in Buffalo, New York, where 10 people died in an attack targeting African Americans, allegedly by a self-described white supremacist.

While mass shootings draw anguished attention and spur momentary demands for change, most US gun violence passes with scant notice.

The country’s Memorial Day weekend – Monday is a national holiday – has been marked by yet more graphic violence.

At least 126 gun deaths and 317 injuries were recorded nationwide from Saturday to Monday afternoon, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.

Gun-control advocates hoped the shock over the Uvalde tragedy, coming even as people in Buffalo were burying victims of the attack there, might finally prompt politicians to act.

Congress has repeatedly failed to agree on tighter gun regulations despite the grim recurrence of mass shootings, but the latest killings in the country's epidemic of gun violence have sparked a push for new measures.

Key lawmakers expressed guarded optimism on Sunday for reform, in a country with a thriving gun culture where guns outnumber people.

Opposition to gun control runs deep among Republicans and some Democrats representing rural states.

"There are more Republicans interested in talking about finding a path forward this time than I have seen since Sandy Hook," Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy told local TV on Sunday, adding that "serious negotiations" were under way with members of both parties.

Mr Biden said Monday he is deliberately "not negotiating with any of the Republicans yet". "I know what happened when we had rational action before" on gun regulation. "It did significantly cut down mass murders."

Mourners in Uvalde – a mostly Latino town of 15,000 about an hour’s drive from the Mexican border – have echoed calls for change.

“At the end of the day, if this child cannot even sip a glass of wine because he’s too young, then guess what? He’s too young to purchase a firearm,” said Ms Pamela Ellis, who travelled from Houston to pay her respects.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.