RICHMOND, Va. – With Congress set to launch a debate over stricter gun control measures next week, Vice President Joe Biden took the administration’s sales pitch on the road Friday, citing “an obligation to act” to reduce gun violence.
Biden, who led the White House response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, said the nation was shaken by the massacre of 20 first-graders and called the episode “a window into the vulnerability people feel about their safety and the safety of their children.”
But he also noted that since the Dec. 14 shooting, which also killed six school staff members, 1,200 Americans have been slain by guns, and he said that such violence demands action.
“We cannot remain silent as a country,” Biden said.
He spoke to the media after a two-hour, closed-door round table with officials from Virginia Tech, where a mentally unstable gunman killed 32 people in 2007, the worst school shooting in American history. The discussion focused on the background check system and mental health.
It was Biden’s second event in as many days on guns. He appeared Thursday on Google Plus for a “fireside chat” on the administration’s agenda. He said he chose to appear on the social network to urge viewers to make their opinions known to lawmakers in Congress.
“Make your voices heard,” he said. “This town listens when people rise up and speak.”
Several of the questions posed to Biden in the online conversation centered on the assault weapons ban, the most politically fraught of the White House’s proposals. Biden insisted the ban, when it was in effect from 1994 until 2004, helped keep law enforcement safer.
But he said he was “much less concerned” about assault weapons than large-capacity magazines. Biden said the Connecticut shooting was more lethal because the assailant, Adam Lanza, used 30-round magazines. “Maybe if he took longer, maybe one more kid would be alive,” Biden said.
Friday’s event zeroed in on the proposal that polls show has the broadest support: expanding the scope of background checks to cover private sales, including at gun shows.
Requiring criminal and mental health background checks for all gun sales was the most popular of nine Obama proposals that Gallup polled on this week, with overwhelming 91 percent support. An assault weapons ban also had majority support, with 60 percent saying they would support such a proposal.
Biden’s push comes a day after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a new, stronger assault weapons ban proposal at a Capitol Hill news conference.