Speaking at a university in Connecticut mere miles from where the December Newtown school shootings 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 Mr. 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 be willing to speak for the fallen, now voiceless, victims of gun violence.
“I can imagine how we will be judged as a society if we do nothing,” he said after addressing parents of victims and saying he wished he had their courage. Mr. Biden lost his wife, Neila, and one-year-old daughter Naomi in a car accident in December of 1972, just weeks after being 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 for 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.
Gov. Dannel Malloy used the conference, organized by members of the state’s congressional delegation, to outline new proposals from his own office that would tighten Connecticut’s 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 [at] a ball game or on a street corner, for that matter, in any one of Connecticut’s cities or towns,” Mr. Malloy said.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has proposed a bill that would require people who purchase ammunition to undergo background checks through the FBI’s instant check system, said Newtown fundamentally altered the political landscape on the gun issue.
“A ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines is achievable,” he 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 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, who lost their daughter Grace in the December 14 shootings, were part of a morning panel discussion on gun violence that was 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.”
A second forum, moderated by newly elected Democratic Sen. Christopher Murphy, tackled the issue of mental health and mental illness, with panelists acknowledging the fine line between allowing access to information about potentially dangerous individuals and stigmatizing the mentally ill. Dr. 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 they’re much more likely to do harm to themselves than to others.
Dr. Kathryn Seifert, a youth and family violence expert, said violent media and games affect children living in vulnerable environments more than it affects children 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.”