President Joe Biden has announced executive actions aimed at cutting gun violence across the US, which he described as an “epidemic and an international embarrassment”.
Speaking from the White House, Mr Biden said: “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Family members whose children were killed at the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school massacre in 2012 and the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 attended the hearing, and Mr Biden thanked them for attending, saying he understood it would remind them of the awful days when they got the calls.
He assured them: “We’re absolutely determined to make change.”
Mr Biden’s announcement delivers on a pledge the president made last month to take what he termed immediate “common-sense steps” to address gun violence, after a series of mass shootings drew renewed attention to the issue. His announcement came the same day as another shooting in South Carolina where five people were killed.
Mr Biden said between the mass killings in Atlanta massage businesses and the Colorado supermarket shooting last month, there were more than 850 additional shootings that killed 250 and injured 500 in the US.
But Mr Biden’s announcement underscores the limitations of his executive power to act on guns. His orders tighten regulations on homemade guns and provide more resources for gun violence prevention but fall far short of the sweeping gun control agenda he laid out on the campaign trail.
Indeed, Mr Biden again urged Congress to act, calling on the Senate to take up House-passed measures closing background check loopholes. He also said Congress should pass the Violence Against Women Act, eliminate legal exemptions for gun manufacturers and ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“This is not a partisan issue among the American people,” Mr Biden insisted.
While Mr Biden asserted that he is “willing to work with anyone to get it done”, gun control measures face slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans remain near-unified against most proposals.
Mr Biden was joined at the event by vice president Kamala Harris and attorney general Merrick Garland. Mr Garland said he was “under no illusions about how hard it is to solve the problem of gun violence” and emphasised a need for a “collective effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and save lives”.
The Justice Department cannot solve the problem by itself, he said, but “there is work for the department to do, and we intend to do it”.
Mr Biden is tightening regulations of buyers of “ghost guns” – homemade firearms that are usually assembled from parts and often lack serial numbers used to trace them. It is legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check.
The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule requiring such gun kits be treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act, which would require that the parts be made with serial numbers and that buyers receive background checks.