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Biden, Bloomberg lean on Congress to act on guns

March 21, 2013|By Melanie Mason
  • Vice-President Joe Biden speaks with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as they join families from Newtown, Conn., to discuss the need for federal gun laws at City Hall in New York.
Vice-President Joe Biden speaks with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg… (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images )

Vice President Joe Biden, seeking to reinvigorate slowing momentum for gun control legislation, urged Congress on Thursday to be courageous in supporting new laws and insisted that the political risks of supporting such laws were overblown.

Biden appeared at New York City Hall with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an ardent advocate for tougher gun laws, as well as families who lost loved ones in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“It’s time for the political establishment to show the courage your daughter showed,” Biden said, addressing the family of Lauren Rousseau, a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed trying to protect her students.

“It must be awful being in public office and concluding that even though you might believe you should take action, that you can’t take action because of the political consequence you face. What a heck of a way to make a living,” he said.

All 23 of President Obama's gun control proposals

“The message I want to get across, Mr. Mayor, is that the risk does not exist as is exaggerated today. Because the vast majority of the American people, the vast majority of gun owners, even close to a majority of [National Rifle Assn.] members … think what the mayors are pushing, and the president has proposed is just simple common sense.”

Biden’s appeal comes as President Obama’s gun violence prevention proposals have faced a string of setbacks. Earlier this week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that the assault weapons ban she had championed would not be included in the larger gun bill Democrats will introduce on the Senate floor next month. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also suggested that a proposal to expand background check requirements may also be excluded from the bill if a compromise cannot be reached that would ensure at least 60 votes.

At City Hall on Thursday, Bloomberg noted that a recent poll done by his nonprofit advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns found nearly 90% of voters in 41 congressional districts and 22 states supported universal background checks.

“There’s no doubt that requiring background checks for all gun sales saves lives. And there’s no doubt that the American people support it,” Bloomberg said. “The only question is whether Congress will have the courage to do the right thing – or whether they will allow more innocent people, including innocent children, to be gunned down.”

Bloomberg, who has spent millions of his immense personal fortune to establish himself as a counterweight to the NRA, warned lawmakers that gun control supporters will be watching their votes.    

“Even though restrictions on military-style weapons will not be part of the bill that goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate, it will get a vote by the full Senate as an amendment to the bill,” Bloomberg said. “And everyone’s going to have to stand up and say, yea or nay. And then the rest of us have to decide just how we feel about people and their stands.”

He urged supporters to be blunt in communicating their concerns to their senators and representatives. He said they should say, “This is a deciding issue for me,” and to tell lawmakers, if they do not back the gun proposals, “I will support whoever runs against you. I will support them no matter who they are or what party they are.”

Although Bloomberg’s group has concentrated on pushing background checks, Biden said the White House was committed to all elements of its gun control plan: the assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks and tougher laws against gun trafficking.       

“I’m not going to rest, nor is the president, until we do all of these things,” Biden said. “All of these things.”

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

Twitter: @melmason

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