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Another mass shooting as Biden takes action on guns

Another mass shooting as Biden takes action on guns thumbnail
media captionBiden on gun violence: ‘This is an epidemic’

US President Joe Biden has issued an order targeting homemade guns one day after a mass shooting in South Carolina left a doctor and his family dead.

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” he said on Thursday.

The president is enacting new measures through an executive order, meaning he does not need approval from Congress.

It includes efforts to set rules for certain guns, bolster background checks and support local violence prevention.

However, the president will have an uphill task. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and many people see gun control laws as infringing on this constitutional right.

Wednesday’s attack in South Carolina, which killed five people, including two young children, follows two mass shootings in March that left a total of 18 people dead – one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Atlanta, Georgia.

What happened in South Carolina?

Dr Robert Lesslie, 70; and his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69, were killed in the shooting at their home in Rock Hill, South Carolina – 30 miles (48km) from Charlotte, North Carolina – along with grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9; and Noah Lesslie, 5.

James Lewis, 38, who was working at the house was also killed. Robert Shook, another worker, was also shot and taken to hospital where he has undergone multiple surgeries.

Dr Lesslie had been married to his wife for over 40 years, according to an online biography. He was a well-known doctor and author of books about medicine.

He also founded the Riverview Medical Center and Riverview House Calls/Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care.

The suspect in the attack, who has not formally been named by police, shot and killed himself amid the manhunt, according to reports.

Former National Football League (NFL) player Phillip Adams has been identified by the Associated Press as the suspected gunman.

A person who spoke on condition of anonymity told the press agency that Mr Adams’ parents live near the doctor’s home and that he had been treated by him.

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image captionDr Lesslie was well known in the region

What did Mr Biden say?

“Every day in this country 315 people are shot – every day,” Mr Biden said during remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, adding that 106 people are killed each day by guns.

“This is an epidemic for God’s sake. And it has to stop,” he continued.

He also offered condolences to the family killed in South Carolina.

“As I was coming to the Oval Office I got the word that in South Carolina, a physician, with his wife, two grandchildren and a person working at his house were gunned down,” the president said.

“So many people sitting here today know what its like when the seconds change your life forever.”

Mr Biden’s executive order gives the Justice Department 30 days to propose a rule that will help reduce the number of so-called “ghost guns”.

These guns are self-assembled, which means they do not contain a serial number and cannot be traced. Background checks are also not required to purchase the assembly kits.

“Anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a weapon,” Mr Biden said.

Experts say that these homemade guns are increasingly being used in crimes. Over 40% of guns being seized in Los Angeles are ghost guns, according to federal firearms officials.

Mr Biden is also giving the Justice Department two months to come up with a rule on stabilising braces for pistols. Under the rule, a pistol used with a stabilising brace would be classified as a short-barrelled rifle, which requires much more stringent background checks under the National Firearms Act.

The Justice Department has also been asked to draft a “red flag law” which states can then use to create their own legislation. These laws authorise the courts and law enforcement to remove guns from people thought to be a risk to the community.

Getting further gun measures through Congress would be difficult. The US Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice-President Harris holding the deciding vote.

However, current Senate rules mean that in practice, 60 votes are needed to pass legislation, meaning some Republican support is required. Republicans have blocked significant gun control laws in the past.

A hard reality for Biden

After recent mass shootings, gun-control activists called on Joe Biden to impose new regulations on firearms. And like past presidents who have sought to address US gun violence, Biden confronts a hard reality.

There are not enough votes in Congress to enact even modest new gun laws. And the steps a president can take unilaterally are limited in scope.

Biden promised that he would do something about gun control, however, so on Thursday he gathered a sympathetic audience in the Rose Garden and unveiled a grab-bag of new actions.

He nominated a head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – a vacancy Donald Trump never bothered to fill. He instructed his Justice Department to come up with new rules for homemade guns and more heavily regulate an attachment that makes handguns more accurate. He called for new gun-violence studies and draft legislation that states could pass.

In a tacit acknowledgement that the scope of these actions are limited, Biden assured his audience that “this is just a start”.

To go much farther, however, the political dynamic in Congress will have to change – and Biden, currently more focused on passing his infrastructure package, will have to expend more political capital.

What has the reaction been?

Mr Biden’s proposed measures have been praised by gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history,” group president John Feinblatt said.

He added that the Biden administration’s decision to treat ghost guns “like the deadly weapons they are will undoubtedly save countless lives”.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the biggest gun rights lobby group in the US, described the measures as “extreme” and said it was ready to fight.

media captionHow countries around the world introduced restrictions following mass shootings

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