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Joe Biden says US should have ‘societal guilt’ 10 years after Sandy Hook

Joe Biden said on Wednesday the US should have “societal guilt” over taking too long to address gun violence and the curse of school shootings.

The president made the remark in a statement 10 years after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, in which 20 young children and six adults were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, on 14 December 2012.

Biden was then vice-president to Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, he said: “Our nation watched as the unthinkable happened. Twenty young children with their whole lives ahead of them. Six educators who gave their lives protecting their students. And countless survivors who still carry the wounds of that day.

“We should have societal guilt for taking too long to deal with this problem. We have a moral obligation to pass and enforce laws that can prevent these things from happening again. 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.”

Biden heralded progress made on gun policy reform this year – after the shooting of 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May.

In June, Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), the first major gun safety bill in nearly 30 years. Among other initiatives, the legislation expanded background checks for the youngest gun buyers and invested in mental health and violence intervention programs.

But Biden acknowledged that more must be done, reiterating his commitment to signing an assault weapons ban, although that proposal has stalled in the Senate.

Our obligation is clear. We must eliminate these weapons that have no purpose other than to kill people in large numbersJoe Biden

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

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit, defines a mass shooting as any shooting in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter. On Tuesday, the same source said there had been 628 such shootings in the US this year. The FBI defines mass murder as an incident with four or more people killed. The Gun Violence Archive records 36 mass murders this year.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, working with Democrats in Congress, Biden and Obama launched a push for meaningful gun reform. It failed.

In his own statement on Wednesday, Obama said 14 December 2012 was “the single darkest day of my presidency. The news from Sandy Hook elementary was devastating, a visceral blow, and like so many others, I felt not just sorrow but anger at a world that could allow such things to happen.”

Obama also said: “I’ve sensed that slowly, steadily, the tide is turning; that real change is possible. And I feel that way in no small part because of the families of Sandy Hook elementary.”

At the Capitol in Washington, the House oversight committee staged a hearing on violence against LGBTQ+ Americans which included testimony from survivors of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs last month, in which five people were killed.

In the Senate, the two Democrats from Connecticut, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, delivered remarks to mark a decade since Sandy Hook.

Both senators recounted visceral memories from 10 years ago. Both were in the Newtown firehouse as parents learned their children would not come home.

“I wish I could tell you that the memory of that day has dimmed,” Blumenthal said. “I wish I could tell you that the knife-like sorrow and pain have subsided, but the fact is it is still raw and real for so many of us in Connecticut.

“My mind goes back to the horrors of this day, and I think that reliving it reminds us of the need to honor those 26 lives with action.”

Blumenthal and Murphy praised gun safety activists who have spent 10 years working for reform, crediting them with helping make the BSCA a reality this year. Murphy said the law was already proving its impact, citing examples of blocked gun purchases to individuals considered to be at risk of committing violence.

“What we have done isn’t enough,” Murphy said in his speech. “It doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to do more, but it is saving lives.”

Murphy has become a champion of gun reform, telling the Guardian earlier this month the movement “is more powerful than the gun lobby” and adding: “I think we are now poised to rack up victory after victory for gun safety.”

In a statement released before his speech on Wednesday, the senator said the US had become “a different place” in the decade since Sandy Hook.

“Mostly today, I will think of all the greatness and beauty that was robbed from this world, when these promising lives were cut short.

“Mostly, I will spend my day today sending every good thought I have to the family members who lost loved ones that day, to the survivors of the shooting, to the first responders, and to the community of Newtown that will never be the same.

“But also today, I will be thankful. I will be thankful for all the good that has resulted from this horror. Those parents, and the community of Newtown, have chosen to rise from that tragedy and build dozens of efforts that have changed lives for the better all over our nation.

“Many in Newtown have helped build the modern anti-gun violence movement, that finally this summer achieved the first federal gun safety bill in almost 30 years.”

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