WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama used a memorial service for the victims of America’s latest mass shooting on Sunday to make another impassioned appeal to reform gun ownership laws.
“No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence. None,” he declared, at a ceremony in the Washington Navy Yard, where a contractor killed 12 people in a gun rampage on Monday.
There have been several mass shootings in the United States in recent months, and after each, Obama has pushed the case for tighter controls on gun ownership, to no avail.
Monday’s incident, in which a troubled former serviceman shot randomly at workers at the naval headquarters, brought carnage within blocks of the U.S. Capitol, where Congress sits.
Lawmakers have thwarted attempts by Obama and his supporters to strengthen background checks for gun permits, citing the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. constitution.
But Obama, while admitting that the message was far from new, said the latest bloodshed should be a wake-up call for Americans.
“Our tears are not enough. Our words and our prayers are not enough,” Obama said.
“If we really want to honor these 12 men and women, we really want to be a country where we can go do work and go to school and walk our streets free from senseless violence without so many lives being stolen by a bullet from a gun, we are going to have to change. Here in America, the murder rate is three times what it is in other developed nations,” he warned, citing Britain and Australia as countries that tightened gun law after mass shootings.
“The murder rate with guns is 10 times what it is in other developed nations. There is nothing inevitable about it. The main difference that sets our nation apart, what makes us so susceptible to so many mass shootings is we don’t do enough, we don’t take the basic common sense actions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people,” the president added. “What is different in America is that it is easy to get your hands on a gun.”
Obama admitted that it looked unlikely that change would come from Washington, but called on American voters to insist on reform.
After 20 children and six adults were killed in a school rampage in Newtown, Connecticut in December, Obama called for tougher enhanced background checks on gun buyers and a ban on assault-style rifles.
But the measures foundered in Congress, partly due to a fierce lobbying campaign by pro-gun groups and opposition from some of his fellow Democrats from conservative states.
Lawmakers now see little immediate prospect of getting a new gun reform bill before Congress.
Figures released this month by the FBI showed that 14,827 people were murdered last year in the United States.
This was well down from the 24,526 killed in 1993, when the country’s population was smaller, but the rate — 4.7 murders per 100,000 people — was significantly higher than those in other wealthy nations.
The comparable rate is 0.4 in Japan, 0.8 in Germany, 1.0 in Australia, 1.1 in France and 1.2 in Britain, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The United States is one of the world’s most heavily-armed nations, with between a third and half of all Americans owning guns.
The shooter in Monday’s tragedy, 34-year-old contractor Aaron Alexis, was working on a navy contract that gave him access to the base, despite prior run-ins with police.
Questions have been asked about how a man with a history of mental instability and of arrests for gun-related complaints was able to buy a gun legally and smuggle it onto the base.