During Buffalo visit, Vice President Kamala Harris touts assault weapons ban | Local News


Vice President Kamala Harris came to Buffalo Saturday intending to quietly pay respects to the late Ruth Whitfield – but ended up strongly reiterating her support for something she said could prevent mass shootings like the one that claimed Whitfield’s life: an assault weapons ban.

Speaking to reporters on the tarmac at Greater Buffalo International Airport after Whitfield’s funeral service, Harris said: “I will say, as I’ve said countless times, we are not sitting around waiting to figure out what the solution looks like. You know, we’re not looking for a vaccine. We know what works. … It includes: let’s have an assault weapons ban.”

Assault weapons are semi-automatic rifles that can shoot multiple rounds of bullets quickly – like the AR-15, which was used both in the May 14 racist attack that claimed 10 lives in Buffalo and the shooting 10 days later that killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers at a school in Texas.

“You know what an assault weapon is? You know how an assault weapon was designed? It was designed for a specific purpose: to kill a lot of human beings quickly,” Harris said. “An assault weapon is a weapon of war with no place, no place in a civil society.”

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Thinking that, the Democratic Congress of 1993 banned assault weapons, only to lose control of Congress in the next election.

Ten years later, a Republican Congress let that assault weapons ban lapse – and with gun enthusiasts increasingly enthusiastic about buying assault weapons, recent Democratic Congresses have shied away from trying to ban them.

Rep. Chris Jacobs of Orchard Park on Friday made a surprising about-face on gun control issues, becoming perhaps the first congressional Republican to call for an assault weapons ban in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

But the twin massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, may be changing some minds. Harris’ comments came a day after Rep. Chris Jacobs of Orchard Park – a Republican endorsed by the National Rifle Association only two years ago – announced his support for an assault weapons ban.

Speaking to reporters, Harris also stressed that she supports increasing the age limit for purchasing weapons and strengthening background checks.

She made those comments on a quick visit to Buffalo in which she at first did not plan to speak at all. At Whitfield’s funeral service at Mount Olive Baptist Church on East Delevan Avenue, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he talked Harris into coming to Whitfield’s funeral after a conflict prevented her from joining President Biden when he traveled to the city three days after the shooting.

“She said she just wanted to come and sit through the service,” Sharpton said. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

But then Sharpton said: “I’m going to break from protocol. I think we should insist that we hear from the vice president.”

“We’re not going quietly into the night,” Garnell Whitfield Jr. said to a packed Mt. Olive Baptist Church Saturday. “My mother deserves more than that.” The service for Ruth Whitfield was the final funeral of the 10 victims of the May 14 massacre.

Harris then rose from her seat in the front pew of the church and spoke for about three and a half minutes, mixing her condolences for Mrs. Whitfield with a call to action.

Addressing the Whitfield family and the nine others who lost loved ones in the attack, Harris said: “I cannot even begin to express our collective pain in this nation for what you are feeling in such an extreme way, to not only lose someone that you love, but through an act of extreme violence and hate.”

Harris said the Buffalo massacre is part of “an epidemic of hate” that’s plaguing the nation – an epidemic that people of good will must fight.

“I think we all know that a true measure of strength is not based on who you beat down, it’s based on who you lift up,” she said. “And it means, then, also in that strength, understanding we will not allow small people to create fear in our community, that we will not be afraid to stand up for what is right, to speak truth even when it may be difficult.”

Connecting the racist massacre on Blacks in Buffalo with previous mass shootings targeting Hispanics, Jews and gays, Harris said Americans need to be clear that they won’t let bigotry explode into violence.

“We are stronger than those who try to hurt us,” she said. “We are strong in our faith. We are strong in our belief about what is right and our determination to act to ensure that we protect all those who deserve to be protected, that we see all those who deserve to be seen, that we hear the voices of people and then we rise up in solidarity, to speak out against this and to speak to our better angels,” she said.

After the funeral, Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, traveled to the memorial outside the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue where the shooting took place.

The vice president emerged from a black SUV bearing a huge bouquet of white flowers. After a few moments of observing the memorial, she laid her flowers on the ground next to countless other bouquets. Harris and Emhoff then paused to pray for several minutes. Both seemed somber, almost to the point of tears.

Harris and Emhoff traveled to Buffalo on Air Force Two, accompanied by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, both New York Democrats. They arrived at 9:45 a.m. – early enough to give Harris and her husband time to meet with families of the shooting victims and other public officials.

Zaire Goodman, 20, a Tops employee who was shot in the neck but survived, was among those Harris met. Afterward, his mother, Zeneta Everhart, said it was great that Harris took the time to visit Buffalo and meet with her son and others touched by the tragedy.

“She said she was sorry for what happened and that she wanted to work to make things better in dealing with domestic terrorism,” Everhart said. “And Zaire said he wants to help.”

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