President Joe Biden has called for reducing gun violence and banning assault weapons in the US to defeat “domestic terrorism” and hate in all its forms, including the “poison of white supremacy”, as he condemned the attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin in 2012 on the 10th anniversary of the heinous act.
On August 5, 2012, a white supremacist opened fire inside the Oak Creek gurdwara in Winconsin, killing six people. A seventh person who was severely paralysed died from his injuries in 2020.
“The Oak Creek shooting was the deadliest attack on Sikh Americans in our nation’s history.
Tragically, attacks on our nation’s houses of worship have only become more common over the past decade. It is up to all of us to deny this hate safe harbour. No one should fear for their life when they bow their head in prayer or go about their lives in America,” Biden said in a statement on Friday.
The President said the Oak Creek incident has shown “us the way” and recalled how after the attack, the Sikh community returned to their Gurdwara and insisted on cleaning it themselves. The son of one of the victims became the first Sikh in American history to testify before Congress, successfully calling for the federal government to track hate crimes against Sikhs and other minority groups.
Every year, the congregation now hosts an annual memorial run to honour the victims. The event bears the words ‘Charhdi Kala’, meaning “eternal optimism”, he noted.
“Fuelled by that spirit of eternal optimism, we must continue to take steps now to reduce gun violence and keep our fellow Americans safe. We must do more to protect places of worship, and defeat domestic terrorism and hate in all its forms, including the poison of white supremacy.
“We must ban assault weapons- used in many mass shootings at houses of worship and other sites across the country- as well as high-capacity magazines,” Biden asserted.
Underlining that the House of Representatives last week passed a bill to do that, he said the Senate must act as well.
“To stand in defence of religious freedom, we must all stand together to ban the weapons that terrorise congregations around our country,” Biden said.
Recalling the attack, the President said when generations of Sikh-Americans in Oak Creek constructed their place of worship after years of renting local halls, it was a sacred place of their own and a connection shared with the broader community. That sense of peace and belonging was shattered on August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist wielding a semiautomatic handgun arrived at the Gurdwara and began shooting.
“The gunman murdered six people and wounded four that day, as well as another victim who survived his wounds only to succumb to them years later. Jill and I know that days like today bring back the pain like it happened yesterday, and we mourn with the victims’ families, the survivors, and the community devastated by this heinous act,” he said.
The US is set to match or surpass its worst year on record for the number of mass shootings, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit that tracks gun violence incidents across the country.
There have been at least 246 mass shootings through June 5 this year. That is the same number the country saw through June 5 in 2021 — the worst year on record since the Gun Violence Archive began tracking mass shootings in 2014.
There were a total of 692 mass shootings in 2021, CNN reported in June. That 246 number also means there have been more mass shootings than days so far in 2022 — a trend that’s recurred each year since 2020 — underscoring the growing prevalence of gun violence in American life, the report said.
Several mass shootings and a sustained rise in gun violence across the US have spurred law enforcement officials and lawmakers to push for more gun control measures.
President Biden in June signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed in decades. Though the measure failed to ban any weapons, it includes funding for school safety and state crisis intervention programmes.