WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden on Thursday made a fervent appeal for lawmakers to pass tougher gun control laws, including a ban on assault weapons, to curb a scourge of mass shootings turning American communities into “killing fields”.
Biden made the 17-minute address – his latest call for tougher firearms measures – with 56 lighted candles arrayed along a long corridor behind him, representing US states and territories suffering from gun violence.
“How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” the president asked in the speech, which he delivered with anger in his voice, and at times dipping close to a whisper.
“We can’t fail the American people again,” he said, condemning the refusal of a majority of Republican senators to support tougher laws as “unconscionable.”
At a minimum, Biden said, lawmakers should raise the age at which assault weapons can be purchased from 18 to 21.
He also urged them to take steps including strengthening background checks, banning high-capacity magazines, mandating safe storage of firearms and allowing gun manufacturers to be held liable for crimes committed with their products.
“Over the last two decades, more school-age children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active duty military combined. Think about that,” Biden said.
He highlighted the story of a young student who smeared a dead classmate’s blood on herself to hide from a gunman at a Texas elementary school, saying: “Imagine what it would be like for her to walk down the hallway of any school again.”
“There are too many other schools, too many other everyday places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America,” Biden said.
While Republican lawmakers have largely resisted tougher gun laws, a cross-party group of US senators held talks on Thursday on a package of firearms controls.
Nine senators have been meeting this week to discuss a response to the mass shootings that have appalled the nation, projecting optimism over the prospects for modest reforms.
The group has focussed on school security, bolstering mental health services and incentives for states to grant courts “red flag” authority to temporarily remove guns from owners considered a threat – a measure Biden also called for in his remarks.