The Biden administration has played down the prospect of changing US gun laws through executive order, reiterating calls for Congress to act, following Monday’s mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.
“We should first expect the US Congress to act,” she said. “I’m not willing to give up on what we must do to appeal to the hearts and minds and the reason of the members of the United States Senate. I served in that body, and s.”
She said that changes to gun laws passed through legislation would have more lasting impact, as opposed to executive orders that can be overturned by subsequent presidents.
Her message was echoed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who stressed that legislative action was preferable, though she said that “current discussions and analysis” were taking place internally about what action the president might take.
Ten people were shot to death on Monday in Colorado after a gunman opened fire in a grocery store in the afternoon. The suspect, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, is expected to make his first court appearance on Thursday.
He was detained in hospital after his arrest by police on Monday. Video footage show the suspect being led away by law enforcement, shirtless, with blood streaming down his right leg.
The Colorado shooting occurred six days after a gun attack on three massage salons in Georgia which left eight people, including six Asian-American women, dead.
The latest mass shootings have spurred renewed calls for action from US lawmakers on gun control. While Democrats control both chambers of the legislative branch, and are open to tightening gun ownership rules, they do not have sufficient votes to circumvent the filibuster rule which requires a majority of 60 in the Senate.
Both Ms Harris and Ms Psaki pointed to two new Bills strengthening background checks which were recently passed by the House of Representatives, though only eight Republicans voted in favour of the legislation.
“There is no reason why we have assault weapons on the streets of a civil society,” said the vice-president. “They are weapons of war. They are designed to kill a lot of people, quickly. Let us all agree we need background checks.”
But there are no signs that Republicans in the Senate are prepared to consider the legislation. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that while the recent acts of violence in America were “horrendous”, he said that the two Bills passed by the House would not have prevented the attacks. “The real challenge here is mental illness and identifying people who are likely to do this kind of thing in advance is very, very difficult.”
Resistance to tightening background checks is not only confined to Republicans. Democrat Joe Manchin has also said he does not support the House legislation in its current form, instead pointing to a more restrictive plan he developed with Republican Pat Toomey to close legal loopholes around firearm purchases.
The White House was also keen to stress on Wednesday that it was not seeking to ban gun ownership – a measure of the sanctity of the right to bear arms enshrined in the second amendment to the US constitution.
“This is not about getting rid of the second amendment, it’s simply about saying we need reasonable gun safety laws,” said Ms Harris.
Ms Psaki repeated the point during her regular daily press briefing. “No one is talking about overturning or changing the second amendment,” she said.