Boulder – President Joe Biden called yesterday for a US ban on assault weapons, after the country’s second mass shooting in a week left 10 people dead in Colorado and sparked urgent new calls for gun control.
Addressing a nation long traumatised by gun massacres in schools, nightclubs, movie theatres and other public spaces, Biden said he did not “need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.”
“We can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country once again,” said Biden, recalling that Congress previously overcame its divisions to pass a 10-year ban on such weapons back in 1994.
“This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives. American lives. And we have to act.”
Tighter gun control is overwhelmingly popular with Americans — but Republicans have long stood against what some view as any infringement on their right to bear arms.
Biden spoke in Washington hours after a 21-year-old man was charged with shooting 10 people in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.
That massacre came less than a week after another gunman shot dead eight people at multiple spas in the Georgia state capital Atlanta.
Together the killings ignited new calls for politicians to act — but yesterday the familiar bipartisan divide was emerging once more.
This month the House of Representatives passed two measures aimed at enhancing background checks and closing a loophole related to a deadly 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
The bills address a popular premise among American voters: that background checks be required for all US firearm sales, including those at gun shows.
But they are unlikely to pass through the Senate, which would require at least nine Republicans to vote for them.
Nevertheless majority Senate leader Chuck Schumer said he had committed to bringing background checks to the floor. “This Senate is going to debate and address the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” he said yesterday.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the White House was “considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive actions.”
Former president Barack Obama said in a statement that “we should be able to buy groceries without fear … But in America, we can’t.”
It is “long past time” to act, he added, urging lawmakers to “overcome opposition by cowardly politicians” and powerful gun lobbyists.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held the first of a series of hearings to examine proposals to reduce gun violence.
The Colorado suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was in hospital after being shot in an exchange of fire with officers during the Monday afternoon attack on King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, 30 miles (50 kilometres) northwest of state capital Denver.
“He is charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree and will be shortly transported to Boulder county jail,” Police Chief Maris Herold told a press conference.
Herold did not offer any details on a possible motive for Alissa, a Muslim whose family emigrated from Syria.
But family and friends described a “paranoid” and “anti-social” individual with a history of violence, who was frequently bullied at high school and may have suffered from mental illness and delusions.
The police chief also read out, one by one, the names of the 10 people killed in the attack: men and women aged from 20 to 65 including police officer Eric Talley, a 51-year-old father of seven, who was the first on the scene.
“Boulder county is a small community — we’re all looking over the list. Do we know anybody?” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis at the press conference.
“None of them expected that this would be their last day here on the planet.”
Mourners placed dozens of flower bouquets and balloons on Talley’s patrol car, displayed outside the Boulder Police Department in memorial yesterday.
“Thank you #Boulder Your kindness means more than we can say right now,” tweeted the department.
Colorado has previously suffered two of the most infamous mass shootings in US history — at Columbine High School in 1999, and at a movie theatre in Aurora in 2012.
The city of Boulder imposed a ban on “assault-style weapons” and large-capacity gun magazines in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting in 2018.
But a judge last week blocked that ban, the Denver Post reported, in a decision hailed by the National Rifle Association, a powerful pro-gun advocacy group.
The suspect, who surrendered a rifle and a semiautomatic handgun at the scene, had purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol last Tuesday, according to a police affidavit.
He was seen by family members playing with a “machine gun” at their home “about two days ago,” it said.
The NRA tweeted a copy of the Second Amendment on the right to bear arms after the Colorado shooting. — AFP