President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden take in a memorial to those killed by a mass shooter in Lewiston, Maine. (Francesca Chambers/ USA Today/ White House pool photo)
The issue at hand is freedom, freedom to live safely in the United States, President Joe Biden said Friday afternoon in front of Just-In-Time Recreation, one of two locations in Lewiston where a shooter opened fire last week, killing 18 people and wounding 13 others.
“Regardless of our politics, this is about protecting our freedom — to go to a bowling alley, a restaurant, a school, a church without being shot and killed,” Biden said.
The president and First Lady Jill Biden visited Lewiston to pay their respects to the victims of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Maine’s second largest city and meet with family members of those who died, first responders, nurses and others who have been on the front lines of the response.
Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, as well as Rep. Chellie Pingree, joined the president and first lady on the trip from Washington, D.C. Rep. Jared Golden was not able to attend the event. The president landed in Brunswick Executive Airport in the afternoon and then proceeded to Lewiston, where he visited the Just-in-Time Recreation bowling alley and Schemengees Bar & Grille, the two sites of the shooting.
The day after the mass shooting, Biden urged Republicans in Congress to work with him and Democratic leaders to pass legislation to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, approve universal background checks for gun purchases, mandate the safe storage of firearms, and end legal immunity for gun manufacturers.
Biden reiterated that call in Lewiston on Friday, saying the scourge of gun violence has become far too frequent around the U.S.
“As we mourn today in Maine, this tragedy opens a painful, painful wound all across the country,” Biden said. “Too many Americans have lost loved ones or survived the trauma of gun violence.”
However, Republicans, including new House Speaker Mike Johnson, have long opposed firearm safety reforms, including an assault weapons ban — a policy that led to a lower rate of mass shootings and deaths when it was in place from 1994 to 2004.
Gov. Janet Mills accompanied Biden during his visit to Maine and thanked the president for coming to the state in the wake of the shooting.
“Mr. President, in this difficult time, we take comfort and solace in knowing that the entire nation stands with Lewiston and with Maine,” Mills said in a speech at the bowling alley. “We feel the warmth of your visit and the strength of your unwavering support for our state.”
Adding to Mills’ appreciation, Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline spoke to the city’s resilience after the shooting.
“Lewiston is a magnificent city and our collective strength is far greater than any number of bullets,” Sheline said.
While last week’s tragedy was a tear in the fabric of the community, King said in his speech that “it will heal, as we come together in respect, remembrance and love.”
Officials Friday also thanked first responders and medical professionals, with Collins describing the mass shooting as “a day of horror, but also a day of courage and compassion.”
In her speech, Pingree said the sense of security Mainers have grown accustomed to is forever altered.
“Each one of us lives in a community where we drop our kids off at the bowling alley, go somewhere for a beer. You feel this level of comfort, knowing everybody, knowing you’re going to be safe. That safety was shattered, we can never let that happen again,” Pingree said.
White House involvement in aftermath of mass shooting
At the direction of Biden, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention has been working closely with Mills following the mass shooting.
Last Sunday, Biden sent the agency’s deputy director Greg Jackson to Maine to provide on-the-ground support and coordinate federal resources.
This included victim services provided by the FBI and Justice Department, such as experts from the Mass Shooting Victimization Resource Center, established in 2017 to improve community preparedness and capacity to serve victims recovering from mass violence. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also provided behavioral health and public health staff support, a White House official confirmed.
“Recovering from this attack will be long and difficult, and President Biden is committed to marshaling resources from across the federal government to support Lewiston every step of the way,” Stefanie Feldman, director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said in a statement Friday. “He will also continue to be relentless in doing everything in his power to stop the epidemic of gun violence tearing our communities apart and urging Congress to act on commonsense gun safety legislation.”
Other federal resources provided to Lewiston have aided specific communities, including American Sign Language interpreters at the Family and Victim Assistance Center in Lewiston. Four members of Maine’s deaf community were killed in the shooting.
The U.S. Housing Authority also provided support for emergency housing as needed throughout the region, alongside the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And the Department of Education assisted in the community’s school reopening strategy. Schools in Lewiston reopened on Oct. 31 after a staff and teachers met Monday to receive counseling and training for how to help students transition back into school.
Biden is the fourth sitting president to visit Lewiston, joining Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson and George H.W. Bush. The president traveled to Lewiston’s neighboring city, Auburn, in July to discuss his economic policies, which was his first trip to the state since winning the 2020 election. First Lady Jill Biden visited Southern Maine Community College in South Portland in April.
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