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10 years after Sandy Hook, Biden says Americans should have 'societal guilt' over gun violence

"We have a moral obligation to pass and enforce laws that can prevent these things from happening again," Biden said in a statement marking a decade since the massacre.
President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House
President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Tuesday.Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — Marking a decade since the Sandy Hook school massacre, President Joe Biden said Wednesday the United States must do more to tackle the nation's gun violence epidemic and people should have "societal guilt" for taking too long to address it.

Biden said in a statement that 10 years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, "the unthinkable happened," when 20 young children and six educators were killed at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Survivors "still carry the wounds of that day," he said.

“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,” he said. “We owe it to the courageous, young survivors and to the families who lost part of their soul ten years ago to turn their pain into purpose.”

The president touted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that he signed into law in June, the most sweeping legislation aimed at preventing gun violence in 30 years. Passed after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, the legislation provides grants to states for “red flag” laws, enhances background checks to include juvenile records, and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping guns away from unmarried dating partners convicted of abuse. It will also require enhanced background checks for people ages 18 to 21 and funding for youth mental health services.

"Still, we must do more," Biden said. "I am determined to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines like those used at Sandy Hook and countless other mass shootings in America."

Banning assault weapons has been at the top of Biden's agenda this year, though it faces uncertain legislative odds due to opposition from Republicans in Congress. Then-President Bill Clinton signed the first and only U.S. assault weapons ban into law in 1994, but it expired in 2004.

Biden said Wednesday that the U.S. must eliminate these weapons, which he said, "have no purpose other than to kill people in large numbers." He reiterated his call on Congress to pass a ban after the mass shooting last month at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Biden was vice president when the Sandy Hook shooting occurred, and then-President Barack Obama tasked him with leading the effort to reduce gun violence.

Before this year, the closest Congress had come to passing significant legislation to address gun violence was in the months after the Sandy Hook massacre. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., struck a deal on background checks, but it was defeated following opposition from Senate Republicans.

The façade of the White House will be lit up in green Wednesday night to honor the victims of Newtown 10 years ago, a White House official said.