By Steve Holland and Brad Brooks
WASHINGTON/UVALDE, Texas (Reuters) -A day after promising residents of Uvalde, Texas, action to address gun violence, U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday sought to appeal to "rational" Republicans to curb powerful weapons and take other federal action to prevent mass shootings.
"Things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it," Biden said as he returned from a weekend trip to memorialize the 19 children and two teachers killed last Tuesday in the nation's worst mass school shooting in a decade.
"The idea of these high-caliber weapons -- there is simply no rational basis for it in terms of self-protection, hunting," Biden told reporters at the White House.
The United States has seen hundreds of deaths from dozens of mass shootings in recent years, and similar debate in Washington about how to reduce them has not yielded congressional action even as polls show most Americans back at least moderate gun ownership regulations. Biden's fellow Democrats are open to new gun restrictions while Republicans have an expansive vision of gun rights.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has repeatedly said in the wake of Uvalde that gun regulations are not the solution and has instead pointed to problems of mental health.
Questions remain nearly a week after an 18-year-old shot his grandmother before heading to Robb Elementary School in southern Texas armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killing 21 people and injuring at least 17 others.
Local police waited nearly an hour even as children continued calling 911 pleading for help before a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team stormed in and killed the shooter.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Sunday said it would review law enforcement's response at the behest of Uvalde's mayor. Some Texas Democrats also want a separate FBI probe.
"We deserve better policing. ... We want answers," Jessica Morales, 30, who was born and raised in Uvalde but now lives in Houston, said outside her parents' home near the school.
The official version of events and the police response to the May 24 shooting has changed markedly over the last week.
But in a statement Monday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin depicted as "not true" comments that Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made on "Fox & Friends Weekend" on Saturday about state officials' not having been "told the truth" about the time it took to stop the shooter. The mayor did not address comments made by Governor Gregg Abbott during a news conference that he had been misled.
Police removed school barricades on Monday, allowing public access on the Memorial Day federal holiday to a makeshift memorial with scores of teddy bears and hundreds of bouquets fading in the Texas heat.
Mourners gathered before life-size photos of the murdered children and teachers. Some quietly wept while others lit candles or snapped photos.
This week, the first of 21 funerals are scheduled in Uvalde.
Residents of the shattered town urged Biden to "do something" about gun violence as he visited on Sunday to meet with families and first responders.
"We will," Biden said.
Little has changed since 1999 when two teenage students fatally shot 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado. Since then, mass school shootings have rocked Virginia Tech university, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, among others.
Last year, the United States faced 61 "active shooter" incidents in schools and elsewhere, FBI data show. Earlier this month, 10 people were killed at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
Biden has backed multiple actions, including a new assault weapons ban and universal background checks. But the president, whose fellow Democrats only narrowly control Congress, has cited the limits of executive action and urged lawmakers to act.
Democrats need 10 Republican senators' support to pass any legislation.
Talks led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas are expected to continue this week. Biden on Monday said Cornyn and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell were "rational" conservatives.
Congress, however, is on recess until June 6, raising the risk that momentum could fade. Still, lawmakers could coalesce around some ideas such as so-called red-flag laws or raising the minimum gun purchasing age from 18 to 21.
While school shootings are shocking, U.S. gun violence occurs regularly. Over the weekend, six people were shot and wounded in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while at least one person died and several were injured amid gunfire at an outdoor festival in Taft, Oklahoma, located southeast of Tulsa, local media reported.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Brad Brooks in Uvalde, Texas; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Donna Bryson, Andrea Ricci and Leslie Adler)