The Weekend Australian

Biden opens fight to reform gun laws

- SEBASTIAN SMITH

‘This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop’

President Joe Biden on Friday AEST branded US gun violence an “epidemic” and an “internatio­nal embarrassm­ent” at a White House ceremony to unveil his first attempt at getting the problem under control.

“This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop,” he said, calling shootings “a public health crisis”. “It’s an internatio­nal embarrassm­ent,” the Democrat, flanked by Attorney-General Merrick Garland and Vice-President Kamala Harris, told congress members and gun control activists in the Rose Garden.

“Enough prayers,” Mr Biden said. “Time for some action.”

Several hours after Mr Biden’s announceme­nt, a gunman opened fire at a Texas cabinetry plant where he was employed, killing one person and sending four others to the hospital in critical condition. No motivation was immediatel­y known.

With congress unable to agree on broad new gun regulation­s, like stricter background checks for gun buyers, Mr Biden announced six executive measures that he said would help tamp down the crisis. Republican­s immediatel­y attacked the proposal, with the party’s leader in the House of Representa­tives, Kevin McCarthy, warning of “unconstitu­tional overreach”.

In addition to relatively modest moves on the politicall­y hypersensi­tive issue, Mr Biden used his

Rose Garden speech to announce the nomination of David Chipman, a gun-control proponent and former law enforcemen­t officer, as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Reflecting the lack of unity in Washington around anything to do with firearms restrictio­ns, the ATF — a key agency in the fight against gun violence — has not had a Senate-confirmed director since 2015.

Mr Biden’s six measures included a proposed rule to “stop proliferat­ion of ghost guns”, as firearms built from home kits are known. The White House says these homemade weapons are especially of concern because they have no serial numbers and cannot be traced after being used in crimes. Another proposed rule was the tightening of regulation­s on arm braces designed to stabilise pistols, a device used by the man who killed 10 people in a Colorado grocery store last month. Under the rule, pistols with braces would be classified as short-barrelled rifles, putting them under stricter control.

Other measures include boosting support for agencies involved in tackling community violence and ordering the first comprehens­ive report on firearms traffickin­g in the US since 2000.

Nearly 40,000 Americans die each year from shootings.

While mass shootings like recent killings in Colorado, Georgia and California attract most attention, more than half the annual death toll is due to suicide.

Mr Biden said his proposals were just a start and urged congress to take on far-reaching measures, such as added background checks and ending the sale of powerful rifles often used in mass killings.

“I know that the conversati­on about guns in this country can be a difficult one. But even here, there is much more common ground than anyone would believe,” he said. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character nation.”

Despite Mr Biden’s appeal, there is ferocious opposition to banning powerful weapons like the AR-15, a semi-automatic resembling the US military M16 rifle. It has become notorious as both the tool of choice in many mass shootings and a hugely popular item for sports shooters and legal gun enthusiast­s.

Mr Biden successful­ly backed an assault weapons ban in 1994 when he was a senator. The law expired a decade later, however, and has never been renewed, with Republican­s increasing­ly rigid in opposing what they depict as an attack on the more than two centuries-old constituti­onal right of citizens to have weapons.

“President Biden’s executive as a actions today do two things: appease the far left and infringe upon our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” representa­tive Robert Aderholt of Alabama tweeted, echoing the scepticism of numerous Republican­s.

“They want to take your guns,” said another Republican congressma­n, Ohio’s Jim Jordan.

Mr McCarthy vowed his party would “strongly oppose and pursue every option — be it legislativ­e or judicial — to protect the right to keep and bear arms”.

In March, after the shooting frenzy in Colorado, Mr Biden said he wanted congress to pass “common sense steps” to restrict firearms. But asked whether he could get enough votes, he replied: “I don’t know.”

JOE

BIDEN

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