Speaking at a Connecticut university near the elementary school where the December mass shooting took place, Vice President Joseph R. Biden urged legislators across the country Thursday to move on gun control, warning that "there's a moral price to be paid for inaction."
Mr. Biden, who President Obama tapped to head a task force on gun violence after the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, said politicians must speak for victims of gun violence who can no longer do so themselves.
"I can imagine how we will be judged as a society if we do nothing," he said after addressing parents of the victims. He shared with them his own struggles with personal tragedy.
Mr. Biden's first wife and 1-year-old daughter died in a 1972 car crash, just weeks after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 29.
"When I think about all the courage you've shown, it's not too much to ask the political establishment, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, state legislators, governors, to show some political courage, too," Mr. Biden told the crowd at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.
Mr. Biden reiterated a call to support the administration's ambitious gun control package, which includes bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and background checks on virtually all gun sales. He was joined on the trip by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a Cabinet member with whom he's worked closely on the issue.
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, used the event to outline new proposals from his own office that would tighten state gun laws by requiring universal background checks, tracking the sale of ammunition as well as firearms and limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds or less, among other provisions.
"The Sandy Hook tragedy happened in a school, but we don't want the next time[to] happen in a movie theater or a shopping mall or @ a ballgame or on a street corner, for that matter, in any one of Connecticut's cities or towns," Mr. Malloy said.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has proposed a bill that would require background checks for people who purchase ammunition, said Newtown has fundamentally altered the political landscape.
"A ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines is achievable," the Democrat said. "Preventing gun violence was thought to be untouchable politically two months ago. But that unspeakable horror has given us unstoppable momentum, and we must seize this historic moment."
A poll released by the Pew Research Center and USA Today Thursday showed that 83 percent of Americans favor universal background checks on private gun sales, 56 percent favor a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and 53 percent favor a ban on so-called assault weapons. The survey of 1,504 adults conducted from Feb. 13-18 has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
Chris and Lynn McDonnell, whose daughter, Grace, was fatally shot at the school, were part of a morning panel discussion on gun violence moderated by Mr. Blumenthal.
"After that day, I made a promise to her that I would be her voice," Ms. McDonnell said. "We promised Grace that we would be fearless in our efforts we ask that our representatives look into their hearts and remember that 26 beautiful lives that we lost and ask meaningful laws that will help prevent this from happening again."
A second forum, moderated by Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, tackled the issue of mental health and mental illness. Panelists acknowledged there's a fine line between increasing access to information about potentially dangerous individuals and stigmatizing the mentally ill. Philip Wang, deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health, pointed out that just 3.5 percent of all acts of violence are committed by the mentally ill and that they're much more likely to harm themselves than others.
Kathryn Seifert, a youth and family violence specialist, said violent media does have an effect on children -- more so for those living in vulnerable environments more than kids who live in stable households.
"Parents need to choose carefully what children have access to," she said. "Children who are vulnerable should have no access to violent media."
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