US President Joe Biden has led a moment of silence at a vigil for victims of gun violence and urged a ban on military-style weapons commonly used in mass shootings.
Biden addressed on Wednesday the Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence at a Washington, DC, church, saying that the increasingly frequent mass shootings are tearing the country apart.
It's "violence that rips at the very soul, at the very soul of this nation," a somber Biden said.
Biden called again for the ban on assault weapons as he spoke at the event that took place nearly 10 years after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that spurred a new generation of advocacy for tougher firearms restrictions.
"It’s just common sense. It’s simple common sense," Biden said.
Reflecting on his own family tragedy, including losing his first wife and infant daughter in a car accident, then one of his sons to cancer, Biden said he could empathise with survivors of mass murders, like the 2012 massacre in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that left 26 dead.
It was the first time a US president has spoken at the yearly vigil, which is now in its 10th year, according to event organisers.
The observance, led by the Newtown Action Alliance Foundation, is meant to honour all victims of gun violence nationwide, and the group is expected to be joined by more than 100 other similarly minded organisations.
Killed at Sandy Hook in the school shooting on December 14, 2012, were 20 first graders and six educators.
'Our work continues'
Biden, long an advocate for stricter curbs on gun use, signed the most significant restrictions in three decades in June, in the aftermath of the shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Biden on Wednesday noted the bill's passage, drawing applause from the audience at St. Mark's, but he said it's "still not enough."
"Our work continues to limit the number of bullets that can be in a cartridge, the type of weapons that can be purchased and sold ... attempt to ban assault weapons, a whole range of things," he said.
Biden has continued to push for more restrictions and regularly calls for a so-called assault weapons ban, though Congress lacks sufficient support to pass legislation restricting such high-powered weapons that can kill many people quickly.
"The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick," Biden said on Thanksgiving. He mentioned then that he would start counting votes in Congress for such a ban.
The president hailed the families holding vigil at the church: "Scripture says the light shines in darkness, and darkness does not overcome it. All of you here tonight, you are the light ... and your loved ones and your friends, they’re the light. And they’ll always be with you, no matter what happens."
Once banned in the United States, high-powered firearms are now the weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings.
Congress allowed the restrictions first put in place in 1994 on the manufacture and sales of the weapons to expire a decade later, unable to muster the political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the weapons ban.