WASHINGTON, D.C. — Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday heard personal stories of gun violence from representatives of victims groups and gun-safety organizations as he drafts the Obama administration’s response to the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. He pledged that action would be taken.
“I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion (that) unless we can do everything we’re going to do nothing,” Biden said. “It’s critically important (that) we act.”
The meeting was part of a series Biden is holding this week to build consensus around proposals to curb gun violence after the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn. Twenty school children were killed.
Biden meets Thursday with the National Rifle Association and other gun-owner groups. Meetings with representatives of the video-game and entertainment industries also are planned.
President Barack Obama wants Biden to deliver policy proposals by the end of the month. Obama has vowed to move swiftly on the package, which is expected to include legislative proposals and executive action.
Participants in Wednesday’s meeting with Biden included the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence and groups from Arizona, Illinois and Wisconsin, states with spates of gun violence that garnered national attention, including the shooting in Arizona of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Also present were two survivors of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people, as well as a stepfather of a victim of last July’s massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in which a dozen people were slain. Attorney General Eric Holder also attended.
Dan Gross, the Brady Campaign’s president, said afterward that the meeting was “very productive and actually inspiring.” He said the administration is trying to figure out how to save many others from losing their lives to gun violence, not take guns away from lawful owners.
“Words like comprehensive and broad don’t mean taking guns away from law-abiding citizens,” Gross said as he stood on the White House driveway with some of those who shared their stories with the vice president. “This is not a debate around the Second Amendment.”
But as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown, Conn., shooting fades, the tough fight facing the White House and gun-control backers is growing clearer. Gun-rights advocates, including the powerful NRA, are digging in against tighter gun restrictions, conservative groups are launching pro-gun initiatives and the Senate’s top Republican has warned it could be spring before Congress begins considering any gun legislation.
“The biggest problem we have at the moment is spending and debt,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said this week. “That’s going to dominate the Congress between now and the end of March. None of these issues will have the kind of priority as spending and debt over the next two or three months.”
The killing of 6- and 7-year-olds at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School appeared to stir a deep reaction from the White House and Capitol Hill. Obama pushed gun control to the top of his domestic agenda for the first time and pledged to put the full weight of his presidency behind the issue. Some Republican and conservative lawmakers with strong gun-rights records also took the extraordinary step of calling for a discussion on new measures.
But other gun-rights advocates have shown less flexibility. The NRA has rejected stricter gun legislation and suggested instead that the government put armed guards in every U.S. school as a way to curb violence. A coalition of conservative groups is also organizing a “Gun Appreciation Day” to coincide with Obama’s inauguration this month.
The president hopes to announce his administration’s next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21.
Obama wants Congress to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines. Other recommendations to the Biden group include making gun-trafficking a felony, getting the Justice Department to prosecute people caught lying on gun background-check forms and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.
Some of those steps could be taken through executive action, without the approval of Congress. White House officials say Obama will not finalize any actions until receiving Biden’s recommendations.
Gun-rights lawmakers and outside groups have insisted that any policy response also include an examination of mental health policies and the impact of violent movies and video games. To those people, the White House has pledged a comprehensive response.
“It is not a problem that can be solved by any specific action or single action that the government might take,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “It’s a problem that encompasses issues of mental health, of education, as well as access to guns.”
In addition to Biden’s meetings this week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will meet with parent and teacher groups, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will meet with mental health and disability advocates.
The White House said other meetings are also scheduled with community organizations, business owners and religious leaders.