US Senate Votes To Protect Same-Sex Marriage

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media following a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on November 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden met with Senate and House leaders to discuss the legislative agenda for the remainder of the year. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

 

The US Senate passed a landmark bill Tuesday protecting same-sex marriage, as lawmakers from both parties moved to forestall the possibility of the conservative-led Supreme Court taking away this right as it did with abortion.

“With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released after the 61-36 vote.

The Senate vote sends the bill back to the House of Representatives, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would approve it next week before sending it to Biden to sign.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer hailed a “momentous step forward for greater justice for LGBTQ Americans.”

Twelve Republicans joined Democrats to pass the legislation on what had for decades been a deeply divisive issue in America.

In the United States, same-sex unions have been guaranteed by the Supreme Court since 2015. But after the court’s historic overturning of a longstanding ruling protecting the right to abortion in June, many progressives feared that same-sex marriage may also be under threat.

Democrats have worked with urgency to get the bill passed while they still control Congress.

They held on to the Senate in this month’s mid-term elections but lost the House to the Republicans, although the latter eked out a much thinner majority than they had expected. So when the new Congress takes power in January, gridlock is expected.

The bill passed Tuesday does not require states to legalize same-sex marriage.

But it repeals previous legislation defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and does require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

So if the Supreme Court were to overturn the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriages, a state that bans them will still have to recognize such unions carried out in other states. The bill also applies to inter-racial marriages.

“Today’s vote is deeply personal for many of us in this chamber,” said Schumer, who wore the same tie he had on at his lesbian daughter’s wedding.

A similar bill was already passed in June by the House of Representatives. All the chamber’s Democrats voted in favor, along with 47 Republicans.

The new vote in the House is needed to reconcile the two bills but this is seen as a formality.

The powerful American Civil Liberties Union hailed the “historic step forward” but denounced the rise of laws attacking the right of transgender people in several states.

“While we welcome the historic vote on this measure, members of Congress must also fight like trans lives depend on their efforts because trans lives do,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Rights Project, said in a statement.

Polls show a strong majority of Americans back same-sex marriage but it is still contentious. Thirty-six Republicans voted ‘no’ on Tuesday and the religious right remains mostly opposed to such unions.

US Militia Leader Guilty Of Sedition In Capitol Assault

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 9, 2022 Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is seen on a screen during a House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) / NO USE AFTER DECEMBER 29, 2022 22:14:15 GMT

 

 

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was found guilty of sedition on Tuesday for his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

Another member of the Oath Keepers, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy while three other co-defendants were acquitted of the same charge, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The verdict capped a nearly two-month, high-stakes trial in which the government sought to prove that the violent January 6 assault, which temporarily halted Joe Biden’s confirmation as president, amounted to a rebellion against the government by Trump backers.


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The five were the first of the nearly 800 people accused in the uprising to go on trial for the hefty charge.

The Justice Department said Rhodes and the Oath Keepers “concocted a plan for an armed rebellion… plotting to oppose by force the government of the United States.”

Prosecutors showed videos of the attack by dozens of group members dressed in military-style combat gear.

But the defendants characterized the case as a political trial carried out by the Biden administration against supporters of his predecessor, Trump.

US Bans Gear From China’s Huawei And ZTE Over Security Risk

This file photo taken on May 31, 2021 shows a Huawei logo at the flagship store in Shenzhen, in China's southern Guangdong province. STR / AFP
This file photo taken on May 31, 2021 shows a Huawei logo at the flagship store in Shenzhen, in China’s southern Guangdong province. STR / AFP

 

US authorities announced a ban Friday on the import or sale of communications equipment deemed “an unacceptable risk to national security” — including gear from Chinese giants Huawei Technologies and ZTE.

Both firms have been on a roster of companies listed as a threat by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the new rules bar future authorizations of their equipment.

The move is the latest in a series of actions to limit the access of Chinese telecom firms to US networks, and comes during a long-running standoff between the world’s two biggest economies.

US officials have shown growing wariness in recent years of Chinese telecommunications companies and technology.

“The FCC is committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders,” said chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.

She added that the new rules are a part of ongoing work to guard against security threats.

A Huawei spokesperson offered no comment on the ban when contacted by AFP.

The order also affects other companies, including video surveillance equipment firms Hangzhou Hikvision and Dahua Technology.

The FCC said Friday that it was also seeking comment on future action relating to existing authorizations.

Previously, Washington had banned Huawei from supplying US government systems and strongly discouraged the use of its equipment in the private sector, with fears that Huawei equipment could be compromised by Chinese intelligence.

In 2019, it put Huawei on a trade blacklist that barred US suppliers from doing business with it, cutting off the Chinese firm — also a top smartphone brand — from Google’s Android mobile operating system.

The United States has cited national security fears as well to restrict the operations of China’s big three state-owned mobile carriers.

At Least Six Killed In US Walmart Shooting

 

An attacker shot and killed at least six people at a Walmart late Tuesday in the US state of Virginia, police said, adding the single shooter suspect is also dead.

The mass shooting in the city of Chesapeake comes just before Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and follows a weekend gun attack at an LGBTQ club in Colorado that left five people dead.

“Chesapeake Police confirm 7 fatalities, including the shooter, from last night’s shooting at Walmart on Sam’s Circle,” the city confirmed on its Twitter account.

Chesapeake Police Department officer Leo Kosinski had earlier told reporters that there had been “multiple fatalities” at the megastore, which local media reported was busy with holiday shoppers.

Emergency calls were first made just after 10:00 pm Tuesday (0300 GMT Wednesday) while the store was still open, with rapid response officers and tactical teams entering “immediately” after arriving on the scene, Kosinski said.

Local media reported that witnesses said the shooting began at the back of the store and that at least five wounded had been rushed to the hospital.

Police did not provide any details about the suspected shooter’s identity or how the assailant died.

“We believe it is a single shooter and that single shooter is deceased at this time,” Kosinski said, adding he did not believe any shots had been fired by police.

In the hours afterwards, news footage showed a major police presence around the Walmart, which is located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of the US capital Washington.

Kosinski said officers and investigators were carefully sweeping the store and securing the area.

Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, issued a statement early Wednesday saying: “We are shocked at this tragic event.”

The company added that it was “praying for those impacted, the community and our associates. We’re working closely with law enforcement, and we are focused on supporting our associates.”

‘Senseless violence’

Virginia state Senator Louise Lucas, who represents the Chesapeake region, said she was “absolutely heartbroken that America’s latest mass shooting took place… in my district.”

“I will not rest until we find the solutions to end this gun violence epidemic in our country that has taken so many lives,” she wrote on Twitter.

The shooting occurred at a major retailer less than 48 hours before Americans nationwide celebrate Thanksgiving.

“Tragically, our community is suffering from yet another incident of senseless gun violence just as families are gathering for Thanksgiving,” tweeted Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia.

The incident occurred three nights after a gunman in Colorado, in the country’s Rocky Mountain west, opened fire inside an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring at least 18, in what is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Authorities said that suspect, identified as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, had used a long rifle at the club, where partygoers were marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which pays tribute to trans people targeted in violent attacks.

Gun violence occurs at an alarming rate in the United States, where more than 600 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.

Biden Turns 80, But White House In No Mood For A Party

 

For the first time in history, a sitting president turned 80 years old in the White House on Sunday but did not celebrate in any public way.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that First Lady Jill Biden posted an affectionate message, with two photos of the couple dancing in tuxedos and gala attire.

“There’s no one else I’d rather dance with than you. Happy Birthday Joe! I love you,” Jill Biden tweeted.

It was the sole mention from the White House of the birthday, and with no public event scheduled no indication emerged of how, or even if, the president would celebrate his birthday.


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Just a day earlier, the Biden family hosted a large-scale fete at the White House — the wedding of Biden’s granddaughter Naomi, which was closed to the press.

Biden does have an important matter to discuss with his family in the coming days — whether he will seek re-election in 2024.

He said at a press conference November 9 that he “intends” to run, and said he and his wife will “sneak away” for a week at some point between Thanksgiving and Christmas to decide with his family.

He promised to make his decision public in early 2023.

Various recent polls say a majority of Americans do not want Biden to run again.

While influential figures who are over 70 or even 75 years old are ample in the American political landscape, the midterm elections have brought some initial generational change in the Democratic Party.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 82, announced her decision Thursday not to run for a new term as speaker of the House of Representatives.

Biden underwent a thorough medical checkup about a year ago, and the results concluded that he was “a healthy, vigorous” man who is fit to serve as president.

But the rigors of the Oval Office also have made their mark on Biden, who walks now with a stiffer gait and suffers moments of confusion.

Over 100,000 Russian Troops Killed, Wounded In Ukraine – Top US General

Ukrainian soldiers ride on a Self-propelled artillery 2S1 Gvozdika outside Bakhmut on November 9, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

 

More than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely suffering similar casualties, top US General Mark Milley said Wednesday.

“You’re looking at well over 100,000 Russian soldiers killed and wounded,” Milley said in remarks at the Economic Club of New York. “Same thing probably on the Ukrainian side.”

The figures provided by Milley — which could not be independently confirmed — are the most precise to date from the United States government more than eight months into the war.


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Milley also said there is a chance for talks on ending the war, and that military victory may not be possible for either Russia or Ukraine.

“There has to be a mutual recognition that military victory is probably in the true sense of the word maybe not achievable through military means, and therefore you need to turn to other means,” Milley said.

“There’s… an opportunity here, a window of opportunity for negotiation.”

Milley’s comments came after Russia ordered its troops to withdraw from the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine — a major blow to Moscow’s military campaign.

But officials in Kyiv reacted with caution, saying the Russian army was unlikely to leave the strategic city without a fight, while US President Joe Biden suggested the retreat was evidence Moscow has “real problems” on the battlefield.

Five Takeaways From The US Midterms

 

As US election officials continue to count ballots across the country, partial results showed that Democrats have avoided their worst fears, while Republicans are holding out hope that they will retake both chambers of Congress.

With multiple critical races still yet to be called, here are some key midterm takeaways:

– No Republican ‘red wave’ –

The president’s party has traditionally lost seats in midterm elections, and with Joe Biden’s ratings stuck in the low 40s and Republicans pounding him over inflation and crime, pundits had predicted a drubbing for his Democrats.

In the House, early results suggested Republicans were on track for a majority — but only by a handful of seats, a far cry from their predictions.

Top Republican Kevin McCarthy — who hopes to be the lower chamber’s next speaker — struck an upbeat note, telling supporters in the early hours: “It is clear that we are going to take the House back.”

But Senator Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, bluntly conceded to NBC that the election is “definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure.”

At 1400 GMT, NBC News projected that Republicans will possibly win 220 seats, giving them only a thin 2-seat majority.

Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock arrives to speak onstage during an election night event in Atlanta, Georgia, November 8, 2022. (Photo by SETH HERALD / AFP)

– Senate undecided –

Control of the 100-seat Senate — currently evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats — hinged early Wednesday on four key races that were still on a knife-edge.

Democrats need two more wins to successfully hold the chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, while Republicans need three to flip it.

In Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin, counting the remaining votes for Senate could take days. And Georgia may well go to a runoff scheduled for December 6.

Democrats had been hoping to pick up seats from retiring Republican senators in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but were only successful in the latter, with hoodie-wearing John Fetterman, who had a stroke during the campaign, defeating Trump-endorsed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.

– Glitches fuel disinformation –

Biden has warned that Republicans pose a dire threat to democracy, calling out their growing embrace of voter conspiracy theories boosted by Donald Trump.

In swing-state Arizona, Trump and his chosen candidate for governor, Kari Lake, alleged irregularities after problems with voting machines.

Officials in the most populous county of Maricopa said about 20 percent of the 223 polling stations experienced difficulties related to printers but that no one was denied the right to vote.

“People of Arizona: Don’t get out of line until you cast your vote. They are trying to steal the election with bad Machines and DELAY. Don’t let it happen!” Trump posted on his social media site, Truth Social.

– Candidates eyeing 2024 –

One of the Tuesday’s most decisive wins was for rising Republican star Ron DeSantis, who won the gubernatorial race overwhelmingly in Florida, cementing his status as a top potential White House candidate in 2024.

But if the 44-year-old views his victory as a presidential mandate, he will likely face a stiff challenge from another Florida resident — Trump, who has teased an “exciting” announcement on November 15.

On the Democratic side, Governor Gretchen Whitmer won her reelection bid in Michigan, a key presidential swing state.

Multiple candidates who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary, including now-Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar, made campaign appearances in key races — fueling speculation they are eyeing another run if Biden decides to sit out.

– Growing diversity –

Maura Healey will make history as the first openly lesbian governor in the United States, with the Democrat easily winning her race in the New England state of Massachusetts.

In neighboring New Hampshire, James Roesener became the first openly transgender man elected to a state legislature, joining multiple trans women already in office.

The mid-Atlantic state of Maryland elected its first Black governor, Wes Moore, whose rising profile has some in the US political class commenting on a potential national run.

And 25-year-old Maxwell Frost was elected in Florida, becoming the first member of the US House from the so-called “Generation Z.”

FBI Busts Huge Theft Ring Of Auto Catalytic Converters

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (C), F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray (R) and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco hold a press conference at the U.S. Department of Justice on on October 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

 

The FBI announced Wednesday that it has broken up a nationwide catalytic converter theft ring that amassed staggering assets of more than half a billion dollars.

A total of 21 people were arrested and charged in the US-wide bust, according to an FBI statement.

“They made hundreds of millions of dollars… on the backs of thousands of innocent car owners,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

Catalytic converters reduce the toxic gases and pollutants emitted by vehicle exhaust systems.

They contain many precious metals (platinum, palladium and rhodium) whose value has exploded in recent years. The car parts are easy to steal and can be sold on the black market for more than $1,000 each.

In California alone, 1,600 catalytic converters were stolen each month last year, according to Phillip Talbert, a federal prosecutor in that state.

Three of the people charged, all from California, are accused of selling more than $38 million in stolen catalytic converters as part of the ring.

Thousands March In Washington To Support Protesters In Iran

 

Thousands of people, including many of Iranian origin, marched Saturday in Washington to show support for nationwide protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini last month.

They chanted slogans such as “Women, life, freedom” and “Justice for Iran” as they walked from the National Mall — the vast green expanse that is home to the Washington Monument — to the White House.

Siamak Aram, one of the organizers, said attendance would surpass 10,000 by the end of the procession and that this was the fifth such rally in Washington, in solidarity with women-led protests in Iran that are now in their sixth week.


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“I believe this is the biggest one,” Aram told AFP.

Some of the protesters came from other cities such as a 28-year-old woman from Boston who gave her name only as Mahshid and wore a T-shirt that read “Help free Iran.”

“We do not want this tyrant regime anymore, who is banning us from our simple human rights and from our freedom,” said Mahshid, who left Iran three years ago to complete a master’s degree in architecture in the United States. Like other people at the rally, she declined to give her last name, fearing for kin that remain in Iran.

One sign held by a young woman had a hair strand attached to it and read: “Our hair may offend you but our mind will end you.”

Amini died last month in police custody after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran’s strict dress code for women. Her death has fueled the biggest protests seen in the Islamic republic for years.

Other rallies in support of the protesters in Iran were also held Saturday in Berlin and Tokyo.

In Washington, a woman named Marjan, aged 55, said she was pleased that the rally featured both people who have lived in Iran and others who have not.

“You see different ages, different religions, different beliefs,” Marjan said.

A childhood friend of hers named Negar was visiting from Britain, where she said she has also attended rallies like this.

“This is an amazing revolution led by women really, and they’re the most oppressed people in Iran,” said Negar, 53.

Of Saturday’s march in Washington, she said: “The least we can do is be here.”

US Admits Killing 12 Civilians Worldwide In 2021

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) welcomes Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 26, 2022. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

 

The US military killed 12 civilians in 2021, all in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday.

The Department of Defense “assesses that there were approximately 12 civilians killed and approximately five civilians injured during 2021 as a result of US military operations,” said the report, which Congress has required to be produced annually since 2018, and part of which is classified.

All of the civilian deaths occurred in Afghanistan, according to the public part of the report.

The Pentagon has already acknowledged its responsibility for the deaths of 10 members of the same family, including seven children, during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August 2021.


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The public document specifies that a civilian was killed in a US strike on January 8 in Herat, and another on August 11 in Kandahar. Two civilians were also wounded on January 18 in Kandahar.

In addition, the US military admitted having wounded three civilians on January 1 in a strike in Qunyo Barrow, Somalia.

The Pentagon also reassessed its counts from the years 2018 to 2020, recognizing 10 more dead and 18 wounded, all in Syria.

NGOs regularly publish much higher assessments of deaths and injuries from US strikes in conflict zones.

The organization Airwars, which lists the civilian victims of air strikes around the world, estimated in its annual report published in May that between 15 and 27 civilians had been killed in US operations in Syria alone.

In January 2022, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged the military to do more to avoid civilian casualties in airstrikes, after several deadly blunders that tarnished the reputation of the military.

Protecting civilians is a “strategic and moral imperative,” Austin noted in a memo to the military chain of command.

R. Kelly Convicted Of Child Pornography Charges

 

Disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, who is serving a 30-year sentence for sex offenses, was found guilty of child pornography charges on Wednesday after a month-long trial in his hometown of Chicago.

Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was convicted of three counts of producing child pornography and three counts of enticement of a minor, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Kelly, a three-time Grammy Award-winner, was acquitted by a federal jury of seven other counts including charges that he obstructed justice in a previous trial, the newspaper said.


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Kelly and two ex-associates had been accused of rigging the singer’s 2008 child pornography trial in which a jury delivered a verdict of not guilty.

Kelly’s former manager, Derrel McDavid, and an ex-employee, Milton “June” Brown, were also acquitted on Wednesday of the obstruction charges.

Kelly was convicted in New York in September of recruiting teenagers and women for sex.

The “I Believe I Can Fly” artist was found guilty of eight charges of sex trafficking and one count of racketeering in the New York case.

Kelly’s conviction in New York was widely seen as a milestone for the #MeToo movement: It was the first major sex abuse trial where the majority of accusers were Black women.

It was also the first time Kelly faced criminal consequences for the abuse he was rumored for decades to have inflicted on women and children.

Kelly also faces prosecution in two other state jurisdictions.

Three Dead, 11 Wounded In Philadelphia Street Shooting

This photo shows a police car behind police tape blocking a street leading to the Jacksonville Landing area in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, August 26, 2018, where three people were killed, including the gunman, and 11 others wounded.

 

Three people were killed and 11 others wounded late Saturday in the US city of Philadelphia after multiple shooters opened fire into a crowd on a busy street, police said.

The nighttime barrage marked the latest mass shooting to jolt the United States, a country in the grips of a gun violence epidemic that shows no signs of abating even as lawmakers scramble for ways to reduce the carnage that has already claimed several thousand American lives this year.

Philadelphia Police Inspector D.F. Pace told reporters that two men and a woman were killed, adding that officers responding to the incident “observed several active shooters shooting into the crowd.”

“You can imagine there were hundreds of individuals enjoying South Street, as they do every single weekend, when this shooting broke out,” Pace said.

Numerous officers patrolling the popular nightlife area were already on the scene when the first shots were heard, a police deployment that Pace described as “standard” for the area on summer weekend nights.

A responding officer fired at one of the shooters, who dropped his gun and fled, though it was unclear whether the man was hit, Pace said.

Local media reported that no arrests had been made, and that as of Sunday morning the streets where the chaos erupted remained closed.

Pace said two semi-automatic handguns, one with an extended magazine, were recovered at the scene.

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He added that police would have to wait until morning to review surveillance footage from nearby businesses that were closed on Saturday night.

Pace described the investigation as “fluid,” saying there were still “a lot of unanswered questions.”

The United States has been rocked by a series of high-profile mass shootings in recent weeks, including at a school in Uvalde, Texas, a church in California, a grocery store in New York and a hospital in Oklahoma.

The incidents have collectively left dozens dead.

Bystander Joe Smith, 23, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his mind had flashed to the recent incidents when he heard the first shots ring out on Saturday.

“Once it started, I didn’t think it was going to stop,” he told the outlet.

“There was guttural screaming,” he added. “I just heard screams.”

Another witness, Eric Walsh, described to the Inquirer scenes of people fleeing the shooting “coming off the street with blood splatters on white sneakers and skinned knees and skinned elbows.”

The Inquirer reported that another person was fatally shot just blocks from the scene about two hours later, but police said that the two incidents were not believed to be linked.

During warmer months, gun violence tends to spike in the United States, where there were an estimated 393 million guns in circulation in 2020, more than the number of people.

US President Joe Biden last week forcefully called for new gun control legislation in response to the recent violence, lamenting the “everyday places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America.”

Over the last two decades, “more school-age children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active duty military combined. Think about that,” Biden said.

A bipartisan group of US senators met on Thursday to discuss a package of firearms controls, but Republicans have historically resisted tougher gun laws.

Gun violence in the United States has killed 18,564 so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings nationwide.

Nearly 10,300 of those have been suicides, it reported.

Since the Uvalde massacre on May 24 at least 26 new mass shootings have taken place, according to the archive.

AFP