Biden delivers impassioned plea to House Democrats on gun control

LANSDOWNE, Va. – Vice President Joe Biden delivered an impassioned and at times emotional plea to House Democrats to rally around the Obama administration’s gun-control proposals, telling lawmakers they can’t rely on political excuses for inaction.

“I’m not asking you to vote for something you don’t believe, but I don’t want to hear about, ‘well we can’t take it on because it’s too politically dangerous.’ The world has changed,” Biden said in a 25-minute address to Democrats at their annual retreat in Lansdowne, Va.

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Biden argued that the political and media climate had shifted dramatically from 1994, when many Democrats blamed their support for an assault weapons ban and other gun-control measures on the party’s loss of its congressional majorities.

“There’s an overwhelming consensus about the need to act that didn’t exist in ’94 and a general consensus about the kinds of thing we have to do,” Biden said.

The vice president led an administration task force on gun violence prevention after the massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., in December. The panel’s recommendations included a renewal of the lapsed ban on assault weapons, a universal background check system for gun purchases and limits on high-capacity magazines.

Biden made an implicit bid to dispel the notion that the administration is not pushing hard on the assault weapons ban, which is considered the heaviest political lift in a divided Congress.

“It’s not acceptable for us to do anything other than try to do all of them,” the vice president said of his task force’s recommendations.

At the same time, he urged congressional action even with the knowledge that none of the proposals holds the promise of stopping gun deaths altogether. “Don’t tell because we can’t solve it all, we can’t act at all,” Biden said.

His voice breaking at times, Biden described in detail the ghastly images from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where first-responders found small children that were, in the vice president’s words, “literally riddled with bullet holes.”

Biden said that in the 54 days since the Newtown tragedy, 1,600 people in the U.S. have died at the hands of guns.

“Folks, you agree with me I’m sure. Enough is enough is enough,” the vice president said.

Lawmakers, he said, would be judged if they fail to act. “It’s simply unacceptable. It’s simply unacceptable,” Biden said.

House Democrats on Thursday are planning to release gun-control proposals from their own task force, led by Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.).

Biden’s decision to make such a hard sell to House Democrats, a minority party dominated by liberals, underscores just how difficult the politics of guns remains. While Biden acknowledged that most of them likely already agree with him, the administration will need as much Democratic support as possible in the face of expected resistance from Republicans.

His remarks appeared to be aimed most directly at conservative members and those who hail from districts with strong gun cultures. Time and again, Biden argued that the politics were not as difficult as the conventional wisdom suggests.

“I’m telling you, times have changed,” he said.

Biden said his task force met with 229 different groups, including the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates.

He voiced support for giving funding to school systems for security, but he rejected in no uncertain terms proposals to arm teachers and administrators. “Let me be crystal clear,” Biden said. “We do not believe arming teachers and administrators makes any sense.”

The vice president said he had an “extensive schedule” planned to make his case across the country, and he joked that he would help House Democrats in whatever way they wanted. “I’ll come help campaign for you or against you, what ever helps most,” Biden said.

House Democrats gave him a standing ovation at the outset of his remarks and interrupted him several times with applause. Biden stayed afterward to answer questions, at which point reporters were escorted from the ballroom.

--This report was updated at Feb. 7 at 1:46 p.m.