By Bernie Becker - 01/31/13 08:34 PM EST
Vice President Biden urged Congress on Thursday to press ahead on new gun restriction measures, saying passage of legislation should be a "no-brainer" after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“Look, nothing we’re going to do is going to fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that it will bring gun deaths down to 1,000 a year from what it is now,” the vice president said.
He added: “If I can prove that there is no constitutional impact on your right to bear arms and the action I’m taking can, in fact, demonstrably show some people could be saved, then it seems to be a no-brainer to me.”
In making his case, the vice president, who helped pass the 1994 assault weapons ban, said the December mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school had changed public perception over the need for new gun laws.
“The visual image of those 20 innocent children being riddled with bullets has absolutely not only traumatized the nation,” Biden said. “It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
But at the same time, Biden also acknowledged that there wasn’t a consensus on how to move forward on gun laws.
Some Republicans in recent days have balked at implementing new background checks to obtain guns, which had been seen as one proposal that could win bipartisan support in Congress.
For instance, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told reporters this week that he was working with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on legislation, but said he wouldn’t favor a universal background check or anything that could pave the way for registration of guns.
“We’re going to protect Second Amendment rights,” Coburn said. “We’re going to do what’s right to keep the guns out of the hands of the people that shouldn’t have them.”
“We’re going to do a criminal background check, and we’re going to do a mental illness background check,” the Oklahoma senator added.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, also sounded skeptical of enhanced background checks on Thursday.
The debate over background checks will revolve around the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a 20-year-old FBI database through which licensed gun dealers are required to screen potential buyers before making a sale. Under federal law, felons, illegal immigrants, fugitives, spousal abusers and the severely mentally ill are barred from buying or owning firearms.
However, unlicensed gun sellers are not required to conduct background checks at all — an enormous hole in the screening process that allows most anyone to purchase firearms.
It's estimated that 40 percent of gun sales are conducted by private sellers who are not required to screen buyers.
After the meeting, Senate Democrats said Biden had plans to travel around the U.S. to barnstorm for further gun restrictions, and also touched on mental health issues as well.
The vice president also cited polls asserting that voters largely support background checks and for banning high-capacity magazines, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said.
At the same time, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a prominent backer of an assault weapon ban, acknowledged that it would be tough to pass such a measure.
“Whatever time we have, we ought to make this floor burn with criticism,” Lautenberg said. “It’s hard to understand why these atrocious assaults on children, on innocents, doesn’t stir the basic character of the country.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who represented Newtown as a House member, said there still was a chance for bipartisan measures, following a Wednesday hearing in the Senate that Murphy called tamer than expected.
“We may be surprised. There may be some Republican votes for an assault weapons and high-capacity magazines ban,” Murphy said. “And maybe more than a few.”
- Mike Lillis contributed