US President Joe Biden has led a moment of silence at a vigil for victims of gun violence and urged a ban on military style weapons commonly used in mass shootings.

Mr Biden addressed the Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence at a Washington DC church and said that the increasingly frequent mass shootings are tearing the country apart.

It is "violence that rips at the very soul, at the very soul of this nation", a sombre Mr Biden said.

Reflecting on his own family tragedy, including losing his first wife and infant daughter in a car accident and one of his sons to cancer, he said he could empathise with survivors of mass murders.

"Everyone is different but I know that feeling. You know, it is like a black hole in the middle of your chest. You are being dragged into it. You never know where there is a way out."

Mr Biden said that in his first two years in office he had managed to get Congress to pass the "most significant gun law passed in 30 years but it is still not enough".

The law expands background checks and reinforces measures to get firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

He again called for resurrecting a far stricter law that banned military style rifles with large capacity magazines.

This would include the AR-15 rifle, which is a best seller among legitimate gun enthusiasts but regularly crops up as the weapon of choice in mass shootings.

"A lot of people's lives were saved" when the law went into effect in the 1990s, he said.

The law expired in 2004 and US Congress has not been able to get a new ban passed but Mr Biden insisted: "We can do it again."

He was introduced at the church by Jackie Hagerty, who was seven years old when she survived the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown. She is now 17 and an activist.

Speaking before Mr Biden spoke, she said "I heard and saw things no child, no person should ever have to see."

"The last 10 years have not been easy, but living my life honoring the victims has helped.

"Many elected officials lack the courage to pass common sense laws. Thankfully we have a president who does more than send thoughts and prayers."