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Joe Biden touts White House progress on gun control

The vice president notes that the administration has implemented or nearly completed 21 of 23 executive actions. He also tries to prod Congress into action.

June 18, 2013|By Melanie Mason, Washington Bureau
  • Vice President Joe Biden with Stephen Barton, who was injured in the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.
Vice President Joe Biden with Stephen Barton, who was injured in the mass… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden, seeking to reinvigorate the White House's stalled gun safety push, touted incremental progress Tuesday in nearly two dozen executive actions pledged by the administration in January.

In a speech to administration officials, members of Congress and gun control advocates at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Biden also tried to goad Congress to act on the issue, vowing that White House and gun control supporters would continue to press for new firearms laws.

"Six months ago, the president and I stood in this very room and made a simple promise to the American people," said Biden in the office building next to the White House. "We said we will do everything we can, everything in our power, to reduce gun violence in this country.

"The most important message to take here today is the president and I, our team, we have not given up," he added. "Our friends in the House and Senate — they have not given up."

The speech served as a progress report on the White House's initiative to reduce gun violence, which was unveiled in January following a mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The president's call for new gun laws set off a fierce battle on Capitol Hill, culminating in the April defeat in the Senate of a measure to expand background check requirements, which topped Obama's gun control wish list.

Without a victory in Congress, Biden sought to highlight narrower success in the executive branch. In January, the White House identified 23 executive actions to reduce gun violence. Biden said Tuesday that 21 of those 23 unilateral actions had been implemented or nearly completed.

Among other actions, the list offered guidelines to schools and places of worship on emergency planning. The White House also directed Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to examine laws that prohibit people from owning firearms, and recommend how those laws could be improved.

Even some of the executive actions checked off by the administration will still need the cooperation of Congress, such as the president's directive to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the cause and prevention of gun violence. The CDC cannot put out requests for grant applications until it receives money from Congress, which is not a sure bet.

"We've seen Congress continue to attempt to politicize research on not just guns, but all sort of issues," said Michael Halpern, program manager of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Biden, in his remarks, alternated between heralding the steps taken by the administration and prodding the legislative branch to act.

"As proud as the president is, as proud as I am at the progress we've made, we need Congress to act," Biden said.

He said that popular opinion had shifted against senators who voted against the background check proposal.

"I know for a fact some of them wonder now whether that was a prudent vote," Biden said, adding he had received "phone calls from members of Congress, many of whom voted no, saying, 'Can you find a way for us to revisit this?'"

Biden did not name those lawmakers, and so far there has been no public indication that gun control supporters have coaxed at least five senators to change their vote, which would be necessary to secure passage.

Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the National Rifle Assn., brushed off assertions that the background check bill had new life, saying the only thing that had changed was the prolific spending on advertising by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of new gun laws.

Biden did not announce any new administrative actions. Last week, the liberal think tank Center for American Progress released a report recommending a dozen executive actions, some of which are modifications of the White House's to-do list, and some new additions.

Arkadi Gerney, coauthor of the report, said he was "confident that they are open to and are reviewing other ideas on how to combat gun crime and expect we'll hear more soon."

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