Joe Biden has urged Congress to act with haste to pass tighter restrictions on gun ownership – including banning assault weapons and requiring more stringent background checks – in the wake of a pair of mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, within the last week.
“We are considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive action,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday. “That has been under discussion and will continue to be under discussion.”
Mr Biden addressed the nation on Tuesday to speak out on gun control and offer condolences to the families of the 18 people who have died from the two mass shootings.
“This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue,” the president said of two bills that passed the House of Representatives last week that would expand universal background checks to cover private gun sales.
“It will save lives, American lives. We have to act,” Mr Biden said.
The president added that the federal government should also ban “assault weapons”. Law enforcement officials have not publicly released information on what weaponry the Boulder gunman used to kill 10 people at a grocery store on Monday.
The president declined to provide any details from his briefing with law enforcement and stressed that many of the details of the Boulder case remain unknown, even to him.
“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that’ll save lives in the future. And I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act,” Mr Biden said.
“We can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again. I got that done when I was a senator. It passed. It was law for the longest time and brought down these mass killings. We should do it again,” he said.
Congress and the George W Bush administration allowed the assault weapons ban in the US to lapse in 2004. It had been law since 1994.
The suspect in Monday’s Boulder grocery store shooting, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, was taken into custody and afterwards charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. Police have not yet identified a motive.
Eyewitnesses to the shooting described a male gunman in tactical gear opening fire in silence on terrified shoppers.
The arrest warrant affidavit for Mr Alissa states he purchased the gun allegedly used in the shooting just days before his rampage.
Databases show he purchased a Ruger AR-556, which is technically a pistol but looks like an assault rifle. It is frequently compared to the AR-15 that has become tightly linked to mass shootings in the US.
Police have revealed the names of the 10 victims at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder where the shooting took place.
Among them was an 11-year veteran of the Boulder Police Department, Eric Talley, 51, and multiple staff of the grocery store, including the youngest victim, Denny Stong, 20.
Kevin Mahoney, 61, walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding last summer and was expecting the birth of a new granddaughter before being gunned down on Monday.
The Atlanta spa shooter last week killed eight people, including six Asian American women, highlighting the rise in violence against Asian Americans over the last year.
Mr Biden’s call to statutory action on gun law reform is likely to meet resistance in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats despite a 50-50 partisan split. Vice president Kamala Harris, a Democrat, casts tiebreaker votes.
Any legislation to reform gun laws would require the support of 10 Republicans to clear the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for passage of non-budget related measures.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee staged yet another defence of guns and gun owners at a hearing on Tuesday, accusing their Democratic counterparts of trying to take away guns from “law-abiding citizens” following the recent mass shootings.
“Every time there is a shooting, we play this ridiculous theatre where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Senator Ted Cruz said at Tuesday’s hearing.
“What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that’s their political objective,” Mr Cruz said.
That’s not an accurate characterisation of the prevailing stance of most Democrats on gun control.
While most members of the party have offered or supported bills that would require universal background checks, prevent those on the terror watch list from acquiring weapons, ban the future sale of assault weapons, and block the sales of bump stock devices that effectively convert semi-automatic rifles into automatic rifles, very few have proposed legislation that would forcefully take certain guns away from law-abiding citizens.
Republicans have seized on the few high-profile exceptions: on the presidential campaign trail in 2019, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Ms Harris (then a California senator) endorsed a mandatory buyback programme on certain military-grade weapons.
“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” Mr O’Rourke said after a shooting in El Paso, Texas, that year.
In Mr Biden’s address on Tuesday he commended the “exceptional bravery” of Mr Talley, the Boulder police officer who was killed responding to Monday’s shooting.
Mr Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were “devastated” upon learning of the second mass shooting in the US in less than a week.
He expressed his condolences to the families of the 10 people who died, once again urging Congress to act “so there’s not more of you, there’s fewer of you” in the future.
Mr Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama, issued a statement on Tuesday condemning “cowardly” GOP lawmakers’ and lobbyists’ blockade of large-scale legislative efforts to regulate the gun-buying marketplace.
Mr Obama noted that it will “take time to root out the disaffection, racism and misogyny that fuels so many of these senseless acts of violence”, but that in the meantime federal lawmakers ought to be doing everything they can to prevent these types of people from buying “weapons of war”.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies