Time ‘to finally do something’ about guns in America - but obstacles abound

Washington:Joe Biden is one of the most powerful men in the world,but when it comes to gun violence,he is almost powerless.

In a rare prime-time address to the nation on Thursday night,the US President urged Congress,yet again,to pass stricter gun limits following the latest wave of mass shootings in America:Buffalo,Uvalde,and this week,Tulsa.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the latest round of mass shootings.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the latest round of mass shootings.AP

Declaring that it was time “to finally do something” to stop everyday places becoming “killing fields”,Biden called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

And if that couldn’t happen,the president said,then the minimum age to purchase such weapons should be raised from 18 to 21,and other common-sense reforms should be introduced,such as expanded background checks,safe storage legislation,and “red flag” laws,which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“After Columbine,after Sandy Hook,after Charleston,after Orlando,after Las Vegas,after Parkland,nothing has been done. This time that can’t be true,” Biden said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit Robb Elementary School to pay their respects to the victims of the mass shooting.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit Robb Elementary School to pay their respects to the victims of the mass shooting.Evan Vucci

“This isn’t about taking anyone’s rights. It’s about protecting children,it’s about protecting families,it’s about protecting whole communities. It’s about protecting our freedom to go to school,to a grocery store,or to a church - without being shot and killed.”

The speech was another impassioned moment from the nation’s Consoler-in-Chief,who toldNew Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week how he’s had the unfortunate task of attending more mass shooting aftermaths than most other US presidents in recent history.

But intensifying pressure on Congress to act is just about all Biden can do for now - thanks in large part to politics and process.

In terms of politics,Biden knows all too well how the powerful gun lobby influences the debate by funding and supporting candidates who have pledged opposition to gun control measures in the US.

Indeed,according to OpenSecrets,a non-profit organisation that tracks campaign financing in America,gun rights groups spent $US15.8 million ($21.7 million) on lobbying last year alone - more than five times as much as the $US2.9 million spent by gun control groups over the same period.

And in terms of process,Biden isn’t just beholden to an evenly split Senate,where 50 seats are held by Democrats,50 are held by Republicans and Vice President Kamala Harris has the casting vote whenever there’s a tie.

There’s also the longstanding filibuster rule,which requires a super majority of 60 votes in the Senate to advance most legislation. That means that unless Democrats can find an extra 10 votes,any gun bill that makes it to the chamber after passing the House of Representatives is ultimately doomed.

That’s not to say the president won’t try. After all,as he noted,new figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show guns are now the number one killer of children in America.

There have already been 233 mass shootings in the US this year alone,and many of them have been conducted by gunmen younger than 21:an age when it’s illegal to buy alcohol,yet it’s somehow legal to purchase an AR15-style semi-automatic rifle that can be used to kill innocent strangers.

Uvalde and Buffalo were but the latest high-profile cases. The former took place last week when an 18-year-old man killed 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Texas.

The latter took place 10 days earlier when another 18-year-old gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo killing 10 people and wounding three others in racially motivated attack.

And then on Thursday (AEST),a man killed two doctors,a staff member and a patient at a medical office in Tulsa,Oklahoma.Authorities said he went there to kill a doctor who he blamed for back pain he felt after surgery.

Outlining the horror of these events,Biden told Americans:“Imagine being that little girl - that brave little girl - in Uvalde who smeared blood off her murdered friend’s body on her own face to lie still among corpses in her classroom and pretend she was dead,in order to stay alive.

“Imagine what it’s like for so many parents to hug their children goodbye in the morning,not sure whether they’ll come back home. Unfortunately,too many people don’t have to imagine that at all.”

In a glimmer of hope,Biden’s address came amid bipartisan talks among a small group of senators seeking to advance modest gun reforms.

One proposed bill being discussed would indeed seek to expand criminal background checks to gun buyers on the internet and at gun shows,where many guns are bought and sold,and give the FBI more time to investigate suspicious gun buyers.

Another proposal focuses on giving states financial incentives to implement the red flag laws Biden wants,which would help to ensure guns don’t get into the wrong hands.

And while the Senate scrambles to reach a deal,House Democrats are proceeding with their own gun safety package:raising the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon;requiring safer storage of weapons;banning the purchase of new “bump stocks” - devices that allow a shooter to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.

Whether they amount to genuine change is yet to be seen. For now,one can only hope. After all,as Biden asked the nation again tonight:“How much more carnage are we willing to accept? How many more innocent lives must be taken before we say enough?”

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Farrah Tomazin is the North America correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

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