Biden renews call for ban on assault rifles during visit to Pennsylvania

Swing state expected to be a battleground to determine which political party controls Congress

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on gun crime and his 'Safer America Plan' during an event in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Reuters
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US President Joe Biden once again called for a ban on AR-15-style rifles as he spoke on his administration's efforts to tackle gun violence — a top concern among American voters heading into the midterm elections — in the swing state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

"It's time to ban these weapons," he told a crowd gathered in Wilkes-Barre, about 30 kilometres south of his childhood home town of Scranton.

With the midterm elections approaching, the president urged supporters to vote for leaders who supported banning assault rifles.

"It's time to hold every elected official's feet to the fire and ask them if they're for banning assault weapons, yes or no, ask them." he said. "If the answer's no, vote against them."

A recent spate of shootings in Oregon, Illinois, New York and the nation's capital has brought gun violence once again to the fore.

As the midterms approach, many Republican candidates are portraying Democrats as unwilling to fight growing crime rates in some parts of the country.

Republicans have also tried to pin them to the “defund the police” movement that arose out of the racial justice protests in 2020, though Mr Biden has never supported curtailing police funds.

Mr Biden's “Safer America Plan” asks Congress for $37 billion in funding to support law enforcement and crime prevention programmes. Part of the request, if approved, includes funding to hire and train an additional 100,000 police officers, a White House fact sheet showed.

Mr Biden made it clear on Tuesday that he was "opposed to defunding the police" and "opposed defunding the FBI".

Pennsylvania will be a key battleground state in November, home to a competitive Senate race that could determine which political party controls the upper chamber of Congress, and the president was in full campaign mode as he kicked off his more than 30-minute speech by rallying support for Democratic candidates in the state.

But some Democratic candidates have wrestled with whether to join Mr Biden on the campaign trail, fearing his low approval ratings could negatively affect their campaigns.

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John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for US senator, who Mr Biden praised as "a powerful voice for working people", did not join him in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday but planned to meet him at another event next week.

Celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate who is endorsed by former president Donald Trump, has sought to portray the Democrat as reckless on crime policy.

A recent UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll found that three quarters of Americans consider gun violence to be a major problem, and eight in 10 believe gun violence is on the rise.

A majority of respondents are in favour of banning certain types of weapons, but more people support regulations that limit who is able to purchase guns.

"We're living in a country awash with weapons of war," the president said in his remarks. "Weapons that weren't designed to hunt but are designed to take on an enemy."

An exasperated Mr Biden asked the crowd: "What's the rationale for these weapons outside of a war zone?"

Mr Biden's remarks on Tuesday are part of a stretch of travel intended to buoy Democrats' chances in the midterms.

On Thursday, he is expected to deliver a primetime address in Philadelphia on what the White House has billed as “the continued battle for the soul of the nation”. Next week he is scheduled to attend events in Pittsburgh and the state of Wisconsin.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: August 30, 2022, 10:16 PM
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