Joe Biden pushes assault weapons ban on Sandy Hook anniversary

Ten years after primary school shooting, President says US has 'moral obligation' to enforce stricter gun control laws

US President Joe Biden renewed his call for a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines on the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. AFP
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US President Joe Biden on Wednesday again called for a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, saying America has “societal guilt” for waiting too long to address the issue in the decade since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“We have a moral obligation to pass and enforce laws that can prevent these things from happening again,” Mr Biden said on the 10th anniversary of the mass shooting.

“We owe it to the courageous, young survivors and to the families who lost part of their soul 10 years ago to turn their pain into purpose.”

On December 14, 2012, a lone gunman shot and killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Massachusetts. The mass shooting re-energised the debate on enforcing stricter gun control measures.

Initial efforts to rein in the country's lax gun laws remained elusive for years at the federal level, leading Mr Biden and his predecessors to use their executive authority to impose regulations on bump-fire stocks, ghost guns and more.

Activists have had to work through state legislatures to pass hundreds of gun safety laws since the Sandy Hook shooting.

After a decade of failed efforts, a bipartisan group of US senators unveiled a gun reform bill that expanded background checks, enacted changes to mental health services and closed the so-called boyfriend loophole by including a provision that prohibits convicted domestic abusers from purchasing firearms.

Mr Biden signed it into law on June 25.

Still, he said more work must be done and that he is “determined” to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that were used at Sandy Hook Elementary School and in other mass shootings in the decade since.

“Enough is enough. Our obligation is clear. We must eliminate these weapons that have no purpose other than to kill people in large numbers,” Mr Biden said.

“It is within our power to do this — for the sake of not only the lives of the innocents lost, but for the survivors who still hope.”

Spurred on by the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois, this year, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit the sale of assault weapons. It is not expected to pass the Senate before the new Congress is turned over next year.

During his tenure, former president Bill Clinton signed a bill into law that prohibited the purchase of certain semi-automatic weapons that were defined as assault weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines, but the law expired in 2004.

Gun reform activists have also called on Congress to enforce universal background checks and raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.

Updated: December 14, 2022, 3:28 PM