Under pressure to act after the latest US mass shooting that left 21 people dead, President Joe Biden vowed on Monday to push for stricter gun regulation, an uphill battle given the Democrats’ narrow congressional majority.
“I’ve been pretty motivated all along” to act on guns, Biden told reporters in Washington.
“I’m going to continue to push,” he said, adding, “I think things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it.”
Biden spoke as the grieving Texas town of Uvalde was holding its first wakes for some of the 19 children and two teachers gunned down last week at their elementary school by a local teenager who was then killed by police.
Biden said that the “Second Amendment was never absolute” and that, after the Texas elementary school shooting, there may be some bipartisan support to tighten restrictions on the kind of high-powered weapons used by the gunman.
After the Uvalde trip, Biden spent Sunday night at his home in Delaware and, as he arrived at the White House for Memorial Day events, was asked if he’s now more motivated to see new federal limits imposed on firearms.
“I’ve been pretty motivated all along,” he said. “I’m going to continue to push and we’ll see how this goes.”
Later, the president and first lady Jill Biden were joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Delivering remarks honoring fallen servicemembers, he said “Memorial Day is always a day where pain and pride are mixed together.”
“Today we are free because they were brave,” the president said.
But Biden said the nation’s experiment in democracy remains under threat, both abroad, in the form of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and in division at home. He called upholding democracy “the mission of our time.”
In his earlier statements to reporters on guns, Biden said he’d not spoken to Republicans on the issue “but my guess is ... they’re going to have to take a hard look.”
There is nowhere near enough support from congressional Republicans for broader gun measures popular with the public — like a new ban on assault-type weapons or universal background checks on gun purchases. Still, Democratic advocates hope meaningful measures could still pass.
Biden said he had taken some executive actions on guns “but I can’t outlaw a weapon” and can’t “change the background checks.”
He said he didn’t know where congressional negotiations stand, but “there’s realisation on the part of rational Republicans” that “we can’t keep repeating ourselves.”
Before returning to Washington, the president and first lady, whose veteran son Beau died of cancer caused by a brain tumour in 2015, attended church Monday morning and laid flowers at their son’s grave.
“Today’s the day our son died,” Biden said at Arlington, telling families that he knows remembrances like Monday’s can “reopen that black hole” of pain.
But he said because of their commitment to the ideals of America, “A part of them is still with us no matter how long ago we lost them.”
One anonymous donor has pledged $175,000 to help cover funeral costs of the Uvalde shooting victims , Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.
An impromptu memorial in the heart of Uvalde, a town of 15,000 about an hour’s drive from the Mexican border, has drawn a steady stream of mourners. So have churches in the mostly Latino city, including the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where Biden and First Lady Jill Biden prayed when they visited on Sunday.
The Uvalde massacre — the deadliest school attack since 20 children and six staff were killed in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 — came less than two weeks after 10 people died in an attack at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York by a young gunman targeting African Americans.
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.
While mass shootings draw anguished attention and spur momentary demands for change, most gun violence in this country passes with scant notice.
The country’s Memorial Day weekend — Monday is a national holiday — has been marked by shootings that killed at least four people and wounded dozens, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.
Gunfire on Sunday at a festival in Taft, Oklahoma left one person dead and seven, including an infant, wounded; while in Chattanooga, Tennessee, six adolescents were wounded Saturday during an apparent altercation, Mayor Tim Kelly tweeted.
Gun-control advocates hoped the shock over the Uvalde shooting, coming even as people in Buffalo were burying victims of the attack there, might finally prompt politicians to act.
A few key lawmakers did express guarded optimism on Sunday — though any gun-control effort faces deep resistance from most Republicans and some rural-state Democrats in a country where guns outnumber people.
“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 bipartisan “serious negotiations” were underway.
Biden said Monday he is deliberately “not negotiating with any of the Republicans yet.”
But, he added, “I know what happened when we had rational action before” on gun regulation.
“It did significantly cut down mass murders.”
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