WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden renewed his call for a ban on assault weapons as he and his wife Jill held a White House event on Wednesday to mourn the 21 victims shot dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, one year ago.
The May 24, 2022, massacre, in which an 18-year-old gunman opened fire with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle inside Robb Elementary School, killing 19 children and two teachers, marked the deadliest US school shooting in almost a decade.
The assault ended when police officers who had waited more than an hour to storm in and directly confront the gunman — even as children hiding inside repeatedly called emergency-911 for help — finally charged into the classroom and shot the suspect dead.
Law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school attack has been widely viewed as disastrous.
The tragedy stands as the nation’s bloodiest single episode of gun violence over the past year, even as incidents of mass shootings and threats of armed bloodshed have become all too commonplace in American life, making “active-shooter” drills routine in schools and other institutions.
“We can’t end this epidemic until Congress passes common sense gun safety laws and keeps weapons of war off our streets and out of the hands of dangerous people (and) until states do the same thing,” Biden said.
More children and teenagers in the US were killed by guns than any other cause in 2020, according to an analysis of US government mortality data by researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Biden repeated his appeal for Congress to ban AR-15 assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“The number one killer of children are guns,” Biden said.
“It’s time to act, it’s time to act. It’s time to make our voices heard. Not as Democrats or as Republicans but as friends, as neighbours, as parents, as fellow Americans,” he said.
A previous national assault weapons ban was enacted in 1994 but expired a decade later.
During the White House ceremony, a solemn Biden and first lady paused at each of four pillars holding lit candles with the names of the children and educators who perished.
Biden spoke softly, struggling at times with emotion, and mentioned planning a memorial service this weekend marking the anniversary of the death of his son Beau, who died of a brain tumour in 2015.
A memorial vigil for the Uvalde victims was planned for Wednesday evening at an outdoor amphitheatre about 3.2km from Robb Elementary, which sits empty and fenced off, due to be eventually demolished and replaced by a new building.
US education secretary Miguel Cardona issued a separate statement citing last year’s enactment of a bill touted as the most significant gun control legislation passed by Congress in 30 years. It authorised US$1 billion in federal grants to bolster school security, expand school-based mental health services and institute classroom safety and violence-prevention programmes.
But Cardona said far more needs to be done to change “a status quo in which our educators have to teach our children how to run, hide and fight before they learn to read.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted immediately after the Uvalde massacre found 84% of respondents supported universal background checks for firearms sales and 70% backed red-flag laws making it easier for law enforcement to seize guns from individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Some gun rights advocates oppose background checks, saying they infringe on constitutional rights to possess arms while failing to stop criminals from obtaining them. They also contend many red flag laws trample on due process rights.
More than 700 mass shootings have been documented in the US just since Uvalde, according to the non-profit group Gun Violence Archive, which defines such incidents as any in which four or more people are wounded or killed, not counting the shooter.