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Vice President Biden Finds New Venue to Talk Up Proposed Actions on Gun Violence

January 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
A week after President Obama unveiled a sweeping list of proposals to address gun violence, Vice President Biden hosted a Google+ Hangout with Hari Sreenivasan to talk to Americans and answer questions on the gun debate. NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni weighs in on where the gun fight stands in Congress.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: Lawmakers in Washington and in some states are making swift moves on gun control measures, and Vice President Biden is finding some new routes to talk up the issue.

Hari is back with our look.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Just eight days after President Obama unveiled a sweeping proposal to address gun violence, Senate Democrats put forward a plan of their own that would renew a ban on assault weapons.

The measure was introduced by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who led the effort to pass the first ban in 1994. That legislation expired a decade later, and Feinstein said it was past time to take action.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D- Calif.: We have done our best to craft a responsible bill to ban these assault weapons, guns designed for military use bought all over this country and often used for mass murder.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Feinstein’s proposal would ban the sale, transportation, importation, or manufacturing of more than 150 specifically named firearms, as well as certain semiautomatic rifles, handguns and shotguns. It would limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, grandfather weapons legally owned on the date of enactment and exempt over 900 weapons used for hunting or sporting activity.

In response, the National Rifle Association released a statement that said — quote — “The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein’s wrong-headed approach.”

The effort faces long odds in the Republican-controlled House, and in the Senate, where some Democrats do not support expanded gun control. Feinstein acknowledged it would be a tough sell, despite 20 children and six adults being killed in the December mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: This is really an uphill road. If anyone asked today, can you win this, the answer is, we don’t know. It’s so uphill.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Vice President Biden, who led the Obama administration’s task force examining gun violence, spent weeks meeting with more than 200 stakeholders after the Newtown shootings.

Mr. Vice president, welcome to Google+.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This afternoon, the vice president joined me and four others from across the country, a therapist, a grandmother, an author, and a media entrepreneur, in a conversation on gun policy in a Google hangout.

Assault weapons were at the top of the discussion.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: One of reason why the assault weapons ban makes sense, even though it accounts for a small percentage of the murders or those who die as the consequence of a weapon every year, is because police organizations overwhelmingly support it because they get outgunned.

They are outgunned on the street by the bad guys and the proliferation of these weapons, when in fact there were fewer police being murdered, fewer being victim — being outgunned when the assault weapons ban in fact was in existence.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There have been several people online asking about the fact that you are a gun owner. You own two shotguns.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Yes.

 HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s your interpretation of the Second Amendment?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: My interpretation of the Second Amendment is an individual. It’s an individual right, not a corporate right, not related to a militia. You have an individual right to own a weapon both for recreation, for hunting, and also for your self-protection. You have an individual right to do that.

But just as you don’t have an individual right to go out and buy an F-15 if you’re a billionaire with ordnance on it, just like you don’t have the right to go buy an M-1 tank, just like you don’t have a right to buy an automatic weapon, those judgments have been made that there are no societal — reasonable societal justification or constitutional justification for owning them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The participants were selected by Google.

Phil DeFranco, who hosts a popular online show with millions of viewers, pressed the vice president over the administration’s proposal to limit the number of rounds in a magazine.

PHIL DEFRANCO, Media Entrepreneur: The gunman in Connecticut fire 150 rounds, meaning that he had to swap out his 30-round magazines at least four times.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Yep.

PHIL DEFRANCO: With how fast you can swap out a magazine, do you think limiting magazine size to 10 will have an impact?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, let’s assume — and, by the way, your facts are correct — about 30. He had — some magazines, I think, only had 20-shell. But I’m not sure — 30 shells. So, he had to swap out four or five times.

If it was 10 shells in there, he would have had to swap out 30 times, or he would have had to swap out 25 times. And so what would happen is the response time in fact may have saved one kid’s life. Maybe if it took longer, maybe one more kid would be alive.

Now, let me give you an example. In the case of Gabby Giffords, when the guy had to swap out a new magazine, he fumbled, he fumbled. And he was able — and an older woman reached up and grabbed his hand. And they subdued him. All of them would’ve been dead had he not had to change that magazine, had there been 30 clips in that magazine or 40 clips in that magazine.

The same way with Aurora. A guy had 100 shells in the magazine. Fortunately, it jammed. It jammed enough that it gave time for folks to get there and in fact save lives.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in Connecticut this morning, the first meeting of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission took place. Connecticut’s Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, has tasked the panel with making recommendations on school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention.

GOV. DAN MALLOY, D-Conn.: We need to develop a commonsense way to regulate access to guns. We need to make sure that our mental health professionals have access to resources and information they need to get treatment to those who need it. We must make sure the public has better information about what to do when they suspect someone may be battling mental illness.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, most of the focus is likely to remain at the national level in the coming weeks, with the president expected to address the issue of gun violence in his State of the Union address on Feb. 12th.

So, where does the fight stand in Congress? And how does the administration plan to move its agenda forward?

Joining me now is NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni.

So, if this is such an uphill climb, why do this now? If it’s motivating the opposition’s base, it’s fueling the NRA with new funding, new membership, why do the Democrats want to take this on?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI:  Well, in part because they do want to actually see action.

But what you saw with Senator Feinstein acknowledging what an uphill battle it is, then you start to wonder. The administration’s own push with some executive action, with a lot of things that they can do behind the scenes, they’re really doing this twofold. And Congress is acting outside of what the administration wishes. So it’s two real tracks.

And it’s no accident the vice president is going to Virginia tomorrow to take this show on the road a little bit with a roundtable discussion. He’s going to have some different lawmakers there. This is the site — the state where Virginia Tech happened, the school shooting there, very tragic, and he’s trying to sort of capitalize on a lot of that energy, the same way that they’re doing on Newtown, to motivate people to action.

From a political perspective in Congress, Democrats raised just as much money off of this issue. You saw this new PAC formed by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who the vice president mentioned was shot. She aims to raise $20 million for the 2014 midterm elections. The NRA is obviously, as you mentioned, going to be adding to their membership, getting a lot more fund-raising out there.

So this is really a battle and it’s really a place where they can stake out some intense positions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how about putting this in terms of perspective in terms of 2014, 2016? Even the vice president today, why he decided to come out on Google, but also is almost on a road tour. He seems to be campaigning for both gun rights and gun control, or gun safety, as he likes to say, well as maybe for himself.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI:  Sure.

Well, the presidential race — of course, we just inaugurated President Obama for his second term. But it really is starting. We have seen a lot of the action shift to the states. You have got Democratic governors making moves on this. Andrew Cuomo in New York is really taking the lead here. He could potentially run for president. The vice president is not making it a secret that he could be running for president as well, so he’s really the front man on this major issue that the president is going to be talking about in the State of the Union and that they’re really going to see more of.

So none of this is without politics in mind. The money does matter. The momentum on this matters when you’re talking to different families affected by it. That’s an issue that they want to use for political gain.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And, finally, what about the other measures? This is just the assault weapon ban that we’re hearing about, but there seemed to be a lot more consensus on background checks. Why not take that kind of strategic approach and get as much as you can passed as soon as you can?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI:  The White House says that that’s what they’re trying to do as well.

They want to work in tandem. They want to work with Republicans who are pushing mental health funding, who can look at that issue there. But even the NRA did a survey of its own members. And they’re saying, we absolutely do not support the universal background checks or this registration nationally.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christina Bellantoni, our politics editor, thanks so much.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI:  Thanks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: On our home page, you can watch the entire hangout and contribute to the conversation by adding your comments.