President Joe Biden on Friday visited a grieving Lewiston, Maine, to mourn the 18 people killed in a mass shooting last week, expressing hope for progress in addressing gun violence.
The president – once again acting as consoler-in-chief, a role he has before taken on following horrific mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and Monterey Park, California – visited the community with first lady Dr. Jill Biden to mourn those killed.
During brief remarks, Biden called on members of the Lewiston community to embrace survivors of the shooting spree, while saying he still has hope for progress in passing comprehensive gun legislation to prevent future massacres despite a bitterly divided Congress.
“Too many Americans have lost loved ones or survived the trauma of gun violence. I know because Jill and I have met with them in Buffalo, and Uvalde, and Monterey Park and Sandy Hook … too many to count. Too many to count from places that never make the news all across America,” the president said. “It’s about bringing people together, different voices and perspectives, for an honest conversation on what’s to be a long road to recovery. You know I’ve been at this a long time. I know consensus is ultimately possible.”
The president added that “Jill and I have done too many of these,” while calling on lawmakers to enact “commonsense, reasonable, responsible measures to protect our children, our families, our communities. Because regardless of our politics, this is about protecting our freedom to go to a bowling alley, restaurant, school, church without being shot and killed.”
The visit comes after authorities concluded a two-day manhunt for the suspect, who was accused of killing people ranging in age from 14 to 76 and wounding 13 more in a bowling alley and a restaurant. The suspect was found dead last week, but questions remain over possible warning signs prior to the rampage and officials’ handling of them.
The Bidens stopped by Schemengees Bar and Grille in Lewiston to pay respects at a memorial for the victims. The president and the first lady laid a bouquet of flowers at the memorial and were joined by local officials and Schemengees Bar owner Kathy Lebel.
“No pain is the same, but we know what it’s like to lose a piece of our soul in a loss that’s so profound – some of us have been there,” he said Friday. “Eighteen precious souls stolen, 13 wounded: Children, grandchildren, spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, bowling coaches, union workers, beloved members, advocates and friends of the Lewiston deaf and hard-of-hearing community. All of them lived lives of love, and service, and sacrifice.”
Biden has voiced frustration at the lack of action in Congress on the issue and has previously suggested his executive powers are limited in enacting further gun control. Following the Uvalde shooting, in which 21 people – 19 students and two teachers – were killed, Biden signed into law the first major piece of gun safety legislation in decades.
Speaking at a fundraiser last week, the president criticized the use of high-capacity magazines. He has before made calls to renew an assault weapons ban, but there is little likelihood of such a measure passing through a divided Congress.
“Who the hell needs an assault weapon that can hold, in some cases, up to 100 rounds?” Biden said at the fundraiser in Washington.
The president said in a statement last week that his administration would continue “to provide everything that is needed to support the people of Maine.” He also reiterated his call for Congress to pass legislation addressing gun violence and urged Republicans to “fulfill their obligation to keep the American people safe.”
The White House laid out the resources the Biden administration has dedicated in response to the shooting ahead of the visit.
“Since this tragedy took place, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, at the direction of the president, has been working closely with the governor of Maine to support the community of Lewiston and every person who has been affected by this senseless act of violence,” said a White House official.
The gun violence prevention office, established in September and led by Vice President Kamala Harris, is intended to address the national epidemic of firearm injury and death.
In addition to coordinating with Maine Gov. Janet Mills, the White House has had Deputy Director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention Greg Jackson on the ground to coordinate with the FBI and Justice Department for use of federal law enforcement resources. The Department of Health and Human Services has also sent behavioral health and public health staff support.
Stefanie Feldman, director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said Biden will continue to urge Congress to act on gun safety legislation.
“President Biden is committed to marshaling resources from across the federal government to support Lewiston every step of the way. He will also continue to be relentless in doing everything in his power to stop the epidemic of gun violence tearing our communities apart and urging Congress to act on commonsense gun safety legislation,” Feldman said in a statement.
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