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‘Ban assault weapons’: Biden issues executive order to tighten gun laws

President Joe Biden has mourned with Asian American survivors of a mass shooting in a Los Angeles suburb and wielded his limited powers to tighten firearms controls, while pressuring Congress to “do something big.”

A somber president addressed the immigrant community in Monterey Park on Tuesday, praising their resilience and recalling characteristics of each of the 11 people slaughtered in January during Lunar New Year celebrations.

“We remember and mourn today,” Biden said. “But I’m here with you today to act.”

Biden, whose own familiarity with grief is well known — his small daughter and wife were killed in a car crash in the 1970s and later his adult son died of cancer — touched on the everyday things he said hurt so much after the initial shock is gone; the way a closet still smells like a loved one, the sound of a laugh, the bend of a smile.

He recalled the strength of a loving “matriarch,” a karaoke singing grandmother, and the 72-year-old manager and dance teacher at the Star Ballroom where the massacre occurred.

Applause broke out when Biden heralded Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old who wrestled the gun from the shooter before he could open fire at a second ballroom.

“He found the courage to act,” Biden said, also getting applause when he highlighted the best picture Oscar for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” — a sci-fi film centered on a Chinese American family that he said “made history.”

Biden then urged Congress, where Republicans have pushed back for decades against stricter gun purchase laws, to take “responsibility” and to clamp down on the hugely popular semi-automatic, military style rifles most often used in mass shootings.

“Ban assault weapons,” he urged to cheers from the audience of around 200 people. “Do it now. Enough! Do something. Do something big.”

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Background checks

Of several measures enacted on Tuesday by Biden, the most consequential was an executive order tightening rules on background checks.

Polls show overwhelming popular support for a blanket rule requiring that anyone purchasing a firearm be checked for a criminal record.

However, Republicans in Congress argue this impinges on the constitutional right to own weapons and should be left up to individual states to decide.

Currently, only federally licenced dealers — responsible for less than half of gun sales — are required to run background checks nationwide. In addition, some states have imposed their own additional requirements.

Biden’s order directed the attorney general to clamp down on vendors failing to carry out the checks and also to clarify who qualifies as a dealer.

The rule “directs my attorney general to take every lawful action possible to move us as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation,” Biden said.

“It’s just common sense — to check whether someone is a felon or a domestic abuser before they buy a gun.”

Biden also said his executive order — an action a president can implement without congressional approval, though only through federal rather than individual state agencies — will also tighten the screws on irresponsible gun dealers.

It will lead to an independent study exposing “how gun manufacturers aggressively market firearms to civilians, especially minors, including by using military imagery,” he said. The attorney general will also release official reports that name firearms dealers who violate laws.

The name and shame tactic will help lawmakers “crack down on those illegal dealers and the public can avoid purchasing from them,” Biden said.

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