Biden pushes to ban assault weapons, gets heckled at gun violence event


WASHINGTON, July 11 (Reuters) - A man whose son was killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, interrupted President Joe Biden's remarks at the White House on Monday during an event to herald the passage of the first major federal gun safety law in three decades.

Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, shouted "we've already gone through this for years and years" at the event, during which Biden lauded the new law but said more needed to be done.

"Sit down and you'll hear what I have to say," Biden said from the lectern on the White House South Lawn before urging Oliver be allowed to speak. Oliver was escorted away from his seat and Biden continued with his address.

The incident underscored the difficulty Biden, a Democrat, has had in addressing the problem of gun violence. Advocates for stronger gun safety laws see him as an ally but want him to do more to stop the stream of gun-related deaths that have become a part of daily life in the United States.

The White House said "our hearts go out" to Oliver, whom Biden has met previously. "The president agrees with him. He agrees that we need to do more," spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters later on Monday.

Earlier in Washington, Biden used the gathering of lawmakers and gun safety activists to herald a rare bipartisan agreement on the issue and call again for a ban on assault weapons. He said the country was "awash in weapons of war."

Congress has shown little inclination to outlaw assault weapons after a ban on such weapons expired in 2004, but Biden is hoping to use growing American outrage about mass shootings to lead to greater pressure on lawmakers to change their mind.

"Assault weapons need to be banned," he said. "I'm determined to ban these weapons again." The Democratic president also said lawmakers should add safe storage laws requiring personal liability "for not locking up your gun."

The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, and the issue is a divisive one in American politics. Gun rights advocates argue that any move to restrict such protections can become a slippery slope, and the gun lobby has a powerful influence on many Republican lawmakers.

Biden said he supports the constitutional protections but said "the right to bear arms is not an absolute right to dominate all others."

Vice President Kamala Harris was also present at the event, as were many members of Congress who approved the legislation and family members of some of the people killed in mass shootings, including the recent attacks in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and Highland Park, Illinois.

The bipartisan bill came together just weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo that killed more than 30 people, including 19 children at an elementary school.

The law includes provisions to help states keep guns out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It also blocks gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners and cracks down on gun sales to purchasers convicted of domestic violence.

Biden, who is looking to improve sagging public approval ratings ahead of Nov. 8 midterm elections for control of Congress, made securing victories on gun control a part of his campaign pitch to voters.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Steve Holland and Nandita Bose; Editing by Bradley Perrett, Jonathan Oatis and Sam Holmes

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Jeff Mason is a White House Correspondent for Reuters. He has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden and the presidential campaigns of Biden, Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. He served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 2016-2017, leading the press corps in advocating for press freedom in the early days of the Trump administration. His and the WHCA's work was recognized with Deutsche Welle's "Freedom of Speech Award." Jeff has asked pointed questions of domestic and foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un. He is a winner of the WHCA's “Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure" award and co-winner of the Association for Business Journalists' "Breaking News" award. Jeff began his career in Frankfurt, Germany as a business reporter before being posted to Brussels, Belgium, where he covered the European Union. Jeff appears regularly on television and radio and teaches political journalism at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a former Fulbright scholar.