Vice President Joe Biden urged Democrats to back an assault weapons ban a day after few of the party’s lawmakers championed the issue during the Senate’s first hearing on gun violence after the Dec. 14 school shootings in Connecticut.
Biden told reporters that during a lunch with Democratic senators at the Capitol, he lobbied for passage of all the Obama administration’s recent recommendations to cut gun violence, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, universal background checks for gun purchasers and a ban on some military-style semiautomatic rifles.
Biden is leading President Barack Obama’s efforts to usher new gun laws through Congress after the death of 20 children and six educators in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“The visual image of those 20 innocent children being riddled with bullets has absolutely not only traumatized the nation,” Biden said following the meeting, “it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The American people “will not understand if we don’t act,” he said.
Advocates for stricter gun laws want to move quickly on new laws in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre out of concern that congressional momentum will fade with time.
The toughest challenge they face is moving an assault weapons ban similar to the one passed in 1994 through the Republican-led House. It faces a tough path, as well, in the Senate where Democrats hold the majority.
At least six of the 55 senators in the Democratic caucus have expressed skepticism or outright opposition to such ban, which expired in 2004, according to a recent Bloomberg review. During a Senate hearing yesterday, the debate focused more on enhancing the nation’s background check system for gun purchases than it did on the assault weapons ban.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said it is “too early to tell where the votes are” for individual gun control measures, including the assault weapons ban.
“We’re going to work together to come up with the kind of package that will be strong but passable,” Schumer said. “It’s a tough job, we know that.”
Biden said there’s been a “sea change” in public attitudes about restrictions on firearms since the Newtown shootings and that has created an opportunity to act. Among those now committed to new laws are sportsmen as well as law enforcement and evangelical Christian groups, he said.
“There are things that we can do, demonstrably can do, that have virtually zero impact on your Second Amendment right to own a weapon for both self-defense and recreation that can save some lives,” said Biden.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, predicted “a lot of support” for his proposal to ban high-capacity magazines, based on comments at today’s closed-door session.
“If murdering six-year-old children doesn’t turn this country around, shame on us,” he said.
Biden and his allies in Congress face a tough battle with the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby, which opposes many of their initiatives.
Earlier today, NRA President David Keene said his group will oppose universal background checks for all gun purchasers. They are also strongly opposed to an assault weapons ban.
Even as he expressed support for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the federal system used by licensed gun dealers, Keene said it shouldn’t be applied universally or to private sales of firearms.
“We are not willing to support measures we feel unduly burden innocent and law-abiding Americans, and on the other side do not have any real impact on the problem we’re trying to solve,” Keene said at a breakfast in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
He also said the Newtown massacre hasn’t changed his group’s position on gun laws, and that gun control advocates are trying to use the “emotion” surrounding the school shootings “to achieve an anti-firearms agenda that they haven’t been able to achieve in the past.,”
“I am convinced that as these things are discussed, that we’re going to come out about where we’ve come out in the past,” he said.
-- With assistance from Kathleen Hunter in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Ann Hughey