US President Joe Biden pushes assault weapon ban in wake of Virginia massacre that left six people dead this week.
Police and the local government in Chesapeake, Virginia, have released a note retrieved from the phone of a Walmart employee accused of murdering six coworkers in a mass shooting earlier this week.
Tuesday’s attack, which came after a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado over the weekend, brings the total number of mass shootings in the United States this year to 610, according to the Gun Violence Archive nonprofit group.
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In a forensic analysis, Chesapeake detectives retrieved a document labelled “death note” from the phone of suspect Andre Bing, in which the 31-year-old complained that his coworkers ostracised and antagonised him.
“I was harassed by idiots with low intelligence and a lack of wisdom,” Bing wrote, accusing his colleagues of laughing at him and giving him “evil twisted grins”.
When one colleague tried “to get rid” of him, Bing said he “lashed out”. The note, released with names redacted on Friday, appears to identify certain employees that Bing blamed for his troubles, as well as another whom he wished to “spare”.
“I promise things just fell in place like I was led by the Satan,” Bing wrote. “My God forgive me for what I’m going to do.”
Chesapeake police also revealed the name of the sixth victim in the attack, 16-year-old Fernando Chavez-Barron.
He, along with Lorenzo Gamble, Brian Pendleton, Kellie Pyle, Randall Blevins and Tyneka Johnson, were killed when Bing, a Walmart supervisor and overnight team leader, entered a break room and opened fire on his fellow employees, authorities said.
The gunman, who had worked at Walmart since 2010, then turned the gun on himself. He died before police arrived on the scene.
Six more people were wounded in the attack, which took place in the retail store just after 10pm local time (03:00 GMT) on Tuesday, ahead of the US Thanksgiving holiday.
Chesapeake police on Friday also confirmed that Bing purchased the murder weapon – a 9mm handgun – on the morning before the attack. Bing had no criminal record and was able to acquire the handgun legally from a local store.
In the wake of the shooting, US President Joe Biden on Thanksgiving Day addressed what he has previously described as the “scourge” of gun violence.
“The idea we still allow semiautomatic weapons to be purchased is sick. It’s just sick. It has no, no social redeeming value. Zero. None. Not a single solitary rationale for it except profits for gun manufacturers,” Biden said on Thursday.
This year is set to be the third straight year that the Gun Violence Archive tallies at least 610 mass shootings in the US. The nonprofit defines a mass shooting as any act of gun violence in which four or more individuals are shot or killed, not including the suspect.
Last year, the Gun Violence Archive counted 690 mass shootings, up from 610 in 2020.
The latest spate of attacks has renewed calls for stricter gun controls, particularly among Democrats.
On Sunday, the morning after the shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub that left five dead in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the White House issued a statement denouncing the “public health epidemic of gun violence”, promising reforms.
“Earlier this year, I signed the most significant gun safety law in nearly three decades, in addition to taking other historic actions,” Biden said in the statement. “But we must do more. We need to enact an assault weapons ban to get weapons of war off America’s streets.”
What constitutes an “assault weapon” is debated, but it is often defined as a semiautomatic rifle that can rapidly fire 30 rounds without reloading. By contrast, most New York Police Department officers carry semiautomatic handguns that shoot 15 rounds.
But enacting an assault weapon ban might be a heavy lift for Democrats, who lost control of the US House of Representatives in the 2022 midterm elections.
In June, Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, hailed as “the first significant piece of gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years”.
It provided $750m in funding for states to implement “red-flag laws” and other measures that would allow courts to remove firearms from individuals shown to be a danger to themselves and others.
The legislation also barred individuals with domestic violence convictions from buying firearms for five years, and it mandated background checks for firearms purchasers under the age of 21.
House Democrats followed that up in July by passing the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022, a bill that “makes it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon”. It echoed similar legislation enacted in 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, that expired in 2004.
But while the bill passed the House, it stalled in the Senate, where 60 votes were needed to overcome any filibuster and bring the ban to a vote.
“I’d rather not try to define a whole group of guns as being no longer available to the American public,” said South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican. “For those of us who have grown up with guns as part of our culture, and we use them as tools – there’s millions of us, there’s hundreds of millions of us – that use them lawfully.”
Other Republican senators, like Florida’s Rick Scott, advocated instead for more mental health counselling instead of an assault weapon ban.
“People are doing the right thing. Why would we take away their weapons?” Scott said on the Senate floor last summer. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
A Pew Research Center study released in 2021 found that just over half of Americans – 53 percent – would be in favour of stricter gun measures. But the nationwide survey found opinions split along party lines.
An estimated 73 percent of Democrats said that tightening gun regulations would help reduce the prevalence of mass shootings, while the majority of Republicans – 65 percent – said it would have no effect at all.
Still, even if a ban on assault weapons were to pass in the US Congress, it would likely face legal challenges.
Earlier this year, the conservative-majority US Supreme Court struck down a New York state law that required firearm owners to show “special need” to obtain a licence that would allow them to carry concealed weapons in public.