3:27am

Sat January 26, 2013
It's All Politics

Obama Administration Takes Gun Control Fight Outside Washington

Originally published on Sat January 26, 2013 3:36 pm

The Obama administration is taking its push for gun legislation outside of the Beltway — possibly in a nod to the obstacles any gun control bills will face in Washington.

On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden held a round-table discussion in Richmond, Va., speaking with people who worked on gun safety after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

Biden became the administration's point person on guns following the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. He and the president released recommendations last week that include renewing the assault weapons ban and limiting the size of ammunition magazines and universal background checks.

But in Richmond, Biden said the effort doesn't stop there. "We're going to continue to go around the country and try to get the best minds to give us further insight into what the president is trying to do," he said.

Biden was joined in Richmond by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who was governor of Virginia at the time of the Virginia Tech shooting.

"There are things you can do that work," Kaine said. "We don't have to despair about being able to reduce gun violence. There are things you can do that work to reduce gun violence. You can do them by working together."

He pointed to an improved background records check put into place in Virginia after the shooting. Biden said in light of the Sandy Hook shooting, now is the time to act.

"What happened up in Newtown — beautiful little babies, 6 and 7 years old, riddled, riddled with bullet holes. Twenty of them dead. I've met with most of their parents. It is a national tragedy," he said.

Biden is not the only one making impassioned pleas. But if history is any guide, Congress will be more of an obstacle than an ally.

On Thursday, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, introduced a new assault weapons ban. But she was clear-eyed about its chances.

"This is really an uphill road," she said. "If anyone asks today: Can you win this? The answer is we don't know. It's so uphill."

The National Rifle Association promptly released a statement saying the senator "has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades."

"The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach," it said.

Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia's police commissioner, spoke at Feinstein's press conference, saying this is what always happens after a mass shooting.

"And then it's business as usual as lobbyists begin to kind of quietly go about trying to influence the outcome of any legislation that's passed," he said.

He wondered aloud if maybe this time would be different. "If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up because I don't know what else will. We have to pass legislation. We can't allow the legislation to get so watered down and filled with loopholes that it is meaningless and won't do anything."

But Feinstein said if her bill and others were to have any chance at all, the push would have to come from outside of Washington.

"If America rises up," she said. "If people care enough to call every member of the House and every member of the Senate and say, 'We have had enough,' " she said.

And that's exactly what Obama's political team is asking for, too, in emails blasted out to supporters Friday. It have even set up a website for reporting how the conversations go.

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday might provide an early sense of the mood in Congress. Set to appear are Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot in another mass shooting.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Obama administration is currently campaigning for a full package of measures designed to try to reduce gun violence, and the White House is taking its pitch for that legislation outside of Washington, D.C. Vice President Joe Biden held a roundtable discussion yesterday in Richmond, Virginia, and he spoke with people who worked on gun safety after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Biden became the administration's point person on guns following the Sandy Hook School shooting. He and the president released recommendations last week, which include renewing the assault weapons ban, limiting the size of ammunition magazines and universal background checks - among many others. But in Richmond, Biden said, the effort doesn't stop there.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're going to continue to go around the country and try to get the best minds to give us further insight into what the president is trying to do.

KEITH: Biden was joined in Richmond by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who was governor of Virginia at the time of the Virginia Tech Shooting.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: There are things you can do that work. We don't have to despair about being able to reduce gun violence. There are things you can do that work to reduce gun violence. You can do them by working together.

KEITH: He pointed to an improved background records check put into place in Virginia after the shooting. Biden said in light of the Sandy Hook shooting, now is the time to act.

BIDEN: What happened up in Newtown - beautiful little babies, six and seven years old, riddled, riddled with bullet holes, 20 of them dead. I've met with most of their parents. It is a nation tragedy.

KEITH: He's not the only one making impassioned pleas. But if history is any guide, Congress will be more of an obstacle than an ally. On Thursday, California Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, introduced a new assault weapons ban. But she was clear-eyed about its chances.

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

KEITH: The NRA promptly released a statement saying the senator has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades and that, quote, "The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach." Charles Ramsey, the Philadelphia police commissioner, spoke at Feinstein's press conference and said this is what always happens after a mass shooting.

CHARLES RAMSEY: And then it's business as usual, as lobbyists being to kind of quietly go about trying to influence the outcome of any legislation that's passed.

KEITH: He wondered aloud if maybe this time would be different.

RAMSEY: If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up because I don't know what else will. We have to pass legislation. We can't allow the legislation to get so watered down and filled with loopholes that it is meaningless and won't do anything.

KEITH: But Feinstein said, if her bill and others were to have any chance at all, the push would have to come from outside of Washington.

FEINSTEIN: If America rises up, if people care enough to call every member of the House and every member of the Senate, and say we have had enough.

KEITH: And that's exactly what President Obama's political team is asking for too, in emails blasted out to supporters yesterday. They've even set up a website for reporting how the conversations go. We might get an early sense of the mood of Congress on Wednesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing with Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in another mass shooting. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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