Biden sees chance of ‘rational’ Republican gun approach

US president says 'we can’t keep repeating ourselves' as he looks to raise the issue of gun laws in Congress

US President Joe Biden takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday. Bloomberg
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US President Joe Biden said that after the Texas primary school shooting, there might be some bipartisan support to tighten restrictions on the kind of weapons used by the gunman, and that the "Second Amendment was never absolute".

“I think things have gotten so bad that everybody’s getting more rational, at least that’s my hope,” Mr Biden said before honouring the nation’s fallen at a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

His comments come a day after he travelled to the Texas community of Uvalde, mourning for three-plus hours with anguished families grieving for the 19 children and two teachers who died in the shooting.

Faced with chants of “do something” as he departed a church service, Mr Biden pledged: “We will.”

After the Uvalde trip, he spent Sunday night at his home in Delaware. As he arrived at the White House for Memorial Day events, he was asked if he was now more motivated to have new federal limits imposed on firearms.

“I’ve been pretty motivated all along,” Mr Biden said. “I’m going to continue to push and we’ll see how this goes.”

In Congress, a bipartisan group of senators talked over the weekend to see if they could reach even a modest compromise on gun legislation after a decade of mostly failed efforts.

That included encouraging state “red flag” laws to keep guns away from those with mental health problems.

“The Second Amendment was never absolute,” Mr Biden said. “You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed. You couldn’t go out and buy a lot of weapons.”

Later, the president and his wife Jill Biden were joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband Doug Emhoff, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at Arlington for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Standing at attention under a cloudless sky in the late-May heat, Mr Biden saluted as taps played, after laying the wreath of multi-coloured flowers wrapped in red, white and blue ribbon in front of the tomb.

Honouring fallen service members, he said: “Memorial Day is always a day where pain and pride are mixed together. Today we are free because they were brave."

But Mr Biden said the nation’s experiment in democracy remained under threat, abroad, in the form of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and in division at home.

He called upholding democracy “the mission of our time".

“Our memorial to them must not be just a day when we pause and pray,” Mr Biden said. “It must be a daily commitment to act, to come together, to be worthy of the price that was paid.”

US President Joe Biden takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington on Monday. Bloomberg

Earlier, Mr Biden said he had not spoken to Republicans on the issue of gun restrictions “but my guess is … they’re going to have to take a hard look".

There is nowhere near enough support from congressional Republicans for broader gun measures popular with the public, such as a new ban on assault-type weapons or universal background checks on buying guns.

But Democratic advocates hope meaningful measures could still pass.

Mr Biden said he had taken some executive action on guns “but I can’t outlaw a weapon” and can’t “change the background checks".

He said he did not know where congressional negotiations stood, but “there’s realisation on the part of rational Republicans” that ”we can’t keep repeating ourselves".

Before returning to Washington, the president and first lady, whose veteran son Beau died of cancer caused by a brain tumour in 2015, attended church on Monday morning and laid flowers at their son’s grave.

“Today’s the day our son died,” Mr Biden said at Arlington, telling families that he knew remembrances like Monday’s could “reopen that black hole” of pain.

US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill pray with family members of service people who have died in combat, during a tree-planting ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Monday. Bloomberg

But he said because of their commitment to the ideals of America, “a part of them is still with us, no matter how long ago we lost them".

The Bidens also hosted a breakfast in the White House’s East Room with about 130 members of veterans' organisations, military family groups and senior Defence Department and other administration officials.

The Bidens and representatives from five Gold Star families who lost relatives in combat also planted a Southern magnolia tree on the White House South Lawn.

The tree came from a sapling of a nearby magnolia planted by President Andrew Jackson in 1835.

As the group used shovels to toss dirt on the newly planted tree, Mr Biden grinned and said “shovel brigade".

He and Mrs Biden later held hands with those gathered in a circle around the tree and prayed silently.

Updated: May 30, 2022, 11:01 PM
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