Obama Administration Takes Gun Control Fight Outside Washington
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The Obama administration is currently campaigning for a full package of measures designed to try to reduce gun violence, and the White House is taking its pitch for that legislation outside of Washington, D.C. Vice President Joe Biden held a roundtable discussion yesterday in Richmond, Virginia, and he spoke with people who worked on gun safety after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Biden became the administration's point person on guns following the Sandy Hook School shooting. He and the president released recommendations last week, which include renewing the assault weapons ban, limiting the size of ammunition magazines and universal background checks - among many others. But in Richmond, Biden said, the effort doesn't stop there.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're going to continue to go around the country and try to get the best minds to give us further insight into what the president is trying to do.
KEITH: Biden was joined in Richmond by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who was governor of Virginia at the time of the Virginia Tech Shooting.
SENATOR TIM KAINE: There are things you can do that work. We don't have to despair about being able to reduce gun violence. There are things you can do that work to reduce gun violence. You can do them by working together.
KEITH: He pointed to an improved background records check put into place in Virginia after the shooting. Biden said in light of the Sandy Hook shooting, now is the time to act.
BIDEN: What happened up in Newtown - beautiful little babies, six and seven years old, riddled, riddled with bullet holes, 20 of them dead. I've met with most of their parents. It is a nation tragedy.
KEITH: He's not the only one making impassioned pleas. But if history is any guide, Congress will be more of an obstacle than an ally. On Thursday, California Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, introduced a new assault weapons ban. But she was clear-eyed about its chances.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: This is really an uphill road. If anyone asks today, can you win this, the answer is we don't know. It's so uphill.
KEITH: The NRA promptly released a statement saying the senator has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades and that, quote, "The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach." Charles Ramsey, the Philadelphia police commissioner, spoke at Feinstein's press conference and said this is what always happens after a mass shooting.
CHARLES RAMSEY: And then it's business as usual, as lobbyists being to kind of quietly go about trying to influence the outcome of any legislation that's passed.
KEITH: He wondered aloud if maybe this time would be different.
RAMSEY: If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up because I don't know what else will. We have to pass legislation. We can't allow the legislation to get so watered down and filled with loopholes that it is meaningless and won't do anything.
KEITH: But Feinstein said, if her bill and others were to have any chance at all, the push would have to come from outside of Washington.
FEINSTEIN: If America rises up, if people care enough to call every member of the House and every member of the Senate, and say we have had enough.
KEITH: And that's exactly what President Obama's political team is asking for too, in emails blasted out to supporters yesterday. They've even set up a website for reporting how the conversations go. We might get an early sense of the mood of Congress on Wednesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing with Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in another mass shooting. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.