Parkland victim’s father heckles Joe Biden as US president pushes for assault weapons ban

A man whose son was killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, interrupted President Joe Biden’s remarks at the White House on Monday at an event announcing the passage of the first major law firearms safety policy in three decades.

Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, shouted “we’ve already been through this for years and years” at the event, at which Biden praised the new law but said more needed to be done.

“Sit down and you’ll hear what I have to say,” Biden said from the lectern on the White House’s South Lawn before urging Oliver to be allowed to speak. Oliver was escorted away from his seat and Biden continued with his speech.

The incident underscored the difficulty Biden, a Democrat, has had in addressing the issue of gun violence. Supporters of tougher gun safety laws see him as an ally, but want him to do more to stop the stream of gun-related deaths that have become part of everyday life in the United States.

The White House said “our hearts go out” to Oliver, whom Biden has met before. “The president agrees with him. He agrees that we need to do more,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters later Monday.

Earlier in Washington, Biden used the rally of lawmakers and gun safety activists to announce a rare bipartisan agreement on the issue and call again for a ban on assault weapons. He said the country was “flooded with weapons of war”.

Congress has shown reluctance to ban assault weapons after the ban on such weapons expired in 2004, but Biden hopes to use growing American outrage over mass shootings to exert more pressure on lawmakers to change their minds.

“Assault weapons must be banned,” he said. “I am determined to ban these weapons again.” The Democratic president also said lawmakers should add safe storage laws requiring personal accountability “for not locking up your gun.”

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms, and the issue is divisive in US politics. Gun rights advocates argue that any move to restrict those protections can become a slippery slope, and the gun lobby has a powerful influence on many Republican lawmakers.

Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, interrupts President Joe Biden’s speech during an event on the South Lawn of the White House, July 11, 2022, in Washington. (AP)

Biden said he supported constitutional protections but said “the right to bear arms is not an absolute right to dominate all others.”

Vice President Kamala Harris was also present at the event, as were many members of Congress who endorsed the legislation and family members of some of those killed in mass shootings, including the recent attacks in Uvalde , in Texas ; Buffalo, New York; and Highland Park, Ill.

The bipartisan bill was drafted just weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo that killed more than 30 people, including 19 children at an elementary school.

The law includes provisions to help states keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It also blocks gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners and cracks down on gun sales to buyers convicted of domestic violence.

Biden, who is seeking to improve on declining public approval ratings ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections for control of Congress, has made securing victories on gun control part of his campaign speech to voters.

Kevin E. Boling