US President Joe Biden on Wednesday led a moment of silence at a vigil for victims of gun violence and urged a ban on military style weapons commonly used in mass shootings.
Biden addressed the Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence at a Washington, DC, church, saying that the increasingly frequent mass shootings are tearing the country apart.
It's "violence that rips at the very soul, at the very soul of this nation," a somber Biden said.
Reflecting on his own family tragedy, including losing his first wife and infant daughter in a car accident, then one of his sons to cancer, Biden said he could empathize with survivors of mass murders, like the 2012 massacre in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that left 26 people dead. Twenty of them were children aged six or seven.
"Everyone's different but I know that feeling. You know, it's like a black hole in the middle of your chest. You're being dragged into it. You never know where there's a way out," the visibly moved president said.
Biden noted that in his first two years in office he had managed to get Congress to pass the "most significant gun law passed in 30 years but it's still not enough." The law expands background checks and reinforces measures to get firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.
Biden again called for resurrecting a far stricter law which expired in 2004, banning military style rifles with large capacity magazines. This would include the AR-15 rifle, which is a best seller among legitimate gun enthusiasts but regularly crops up as the weapon of choice in mass shootings.
"A lot of people's lives were saved" when the law went into effect in the 1990s, he said.
An assault weapons ban has been blocked largely by Republican opposition, citing the constitutional right to gun ownership. The Biden presidency saw the House of Representatives pass a ban in 2022, but it was unable to pass in the Senate, due to an only razor-thin Democratic majority.
Since then, Congress has not been able to get a new ban passed but Biden insisted: "We can do it again."
He was introduced at the church by Jackie Hegarty, who was seven years old when she survived the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown and is now 17 and an activist. "I heard and saw things no child, no person should ever have to see," she said, before Biden spoke.
"The last 10 years have not been easy, but living my life honoring the victims has helped," she said. "Many elected officials lack the courage to pass common sense laws. Thankfully we have a president who does more than send thoughts and prayers."