Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Thursday revealed his own brush with a school-shooting massacre in defending the far-reaching package of gun-control regulations that President Obama endorsed this week.
Mr. Biden told a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington that it was "pure coincidence" that he was in Lancaster County, Pa., on Oct. 2, 2006, when a deranged gunman was killing students nearby at a tiny Amish school.
"I happened to be literally — probably, it turned out, to be a quarter of a mile [away] at an outing when I heard gunshots in the woods," Mr. Biden recounted. "We didn't know. ... We thought they were hunters."
The vice president, who owns two shotguns, apparently was on a golfing trip, although he didn't specify the reason he was there.
"As I got back to the clubhouse of this outing and saw helicopters, it was a shooting that had just taken place in a small Amish ... school just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So it's not just big cities or well-to-do suburbs. It can happen anywhere."
He was referring to an incident in which a truck driver, Charles Roberts IV, entered the West Nickel Mines School and shot 10 girls, five of whom died. The gunman committed suicide as police closed in.
An online search didn't produce any earlier instances of Mr. Biden telling the story about having been within earshot of the school massacre.
The vice president insisted to the mayors that he and President Obama support gun rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment, a day after they called for one of the broadest package of gun-control regulations in the nation's history. The National Rifle Association has sharply criticized many of the proposals, which face resistance from lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill.
The first principle that guided them in their work, Mr. Biden said, is that "there is a Second Amendment."
"The president and I support the Second Amendment," Mr. Biden said. "This isn't just about guns. It's about the coarsening of our culture."
Mr. Biden led a task force that came up with gun-control proposals in the wake of last month's mass killings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were fatally shot. The gunman also killed his mother and himself. The president on Wednesday signed 23 executive orders to tighten gun laws, and announced a legislative push to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazine clips.
The vice president said Mr. Obama had directed him after the Newtown shootings to do "as quick a survey as I could, as thorough as I could, in a short time frame."
He said the Newtown massacre "affected the public psyche in a way I've never seen before."
"This time will not be like the times that have come before. Newtown has shocked the nation," Mr. Biden said. "The carnage on our streets is no longer able to be ignored. We're going to take this fight to the halls of Congress, and we're going to take it beyond that, to the American people."
The executive directives signed by Mr. Obama include better information-sharing among federal agencies, educating gun owners on safety, and assuring doctors that they can legally ask patients whether they own firearms.
His proposals signal the beginning of the first major gun debate in years. If successful, it would be the first such legislation to pass in Washington in two decades.
Mr. Biden said he knows the effort in Congress will be difficult.
"I have no illusions about how hard it's going to be, but I know this: We have no choice," he said. "Maybe what happened in Newtown is a call to action about more than just gun violence, about civility in our society."
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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