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Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democratic elected officials used a conference in Connecticut on Thursday to press for new state and federal laws to curb gun violence.
“I say it’s unacceptable not to take this on,” Biden said, seeming to direct remarks at former Senate colleagues from states where the electorate may be more resistant to gun control measures than in Connecticut.
“What I say to my colleagues who will watch this and listen to this, I say to you: If you’re concerned about your political survival you should be concerned about the survival of our children, and guess what, I believe the price to be paid politically ... is to those who refuse to act,” Biden said. “There’s a moral price to be paid for inaction.”
Biden, appointed by President Barack Obama to be the administration’s point man on firearm issues, alluded to attention-grabbing statements he made Tuesday, when he suggested that people buy double-barrel shotguns for personal protection instead of more powerful assault weapons.
“There’s plenty of ways to protect yourself and recreate without an AR-15.” Biden said. “They say it isn’t about guns! They’re wrong, it is about guns!” said Biden, at times shouting and criticizing the National Rifle Association by name.
Speaking before Biden’s arrival, Connecticut’s Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher S. Murphy, used the conference as a launching pad of sorts for action when the Senate returns from recess next week. The event, at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, was held in response to December’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, about a dozen miles away, in Newtown.
“We approach go-time, and we are in the hour of decision in Washington, D.C.,” Murphy said. “Over the next several weeks, the committees of cognizance in the Senate will be reporting out legislation that we’re going to have a chance to vote on, and members are going to be making decisions on which side they stand: the side of the status quo and the gun lobby, or whether they stand on the side of change on the families who are represented here today.”
Blumenthal noted that the Sandy Hook massacre has changed the terms of the debate, even if Congress ultimately agrees on a narrow compromise.
“Let’s face another blunt truth: Preventing gun violence was thought to be untouchable politically two months ago. That unspeakable horror has given us unstoppable momentum and we must seize this story,” he said.
Biden outlined a series of administration proposals on restricting access to certain firearms and increasing access to mental-health services that previously have been announced, including some of Obama’s 23 executive actions announced in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Biden also praised one of his longtime Senate colleagues, former Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, for the entertainment industry’s work to create new public service announcements about mental health and children. Dodd is chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Biden also noted the effort to provide for parity in insurance coverage of mental-health care.
“We have within our power the ability to take steps at a national level that will greatly reduce the chance that any community will have to go through what Newtown has gone through,” Murphy said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is scheduled to preside over a Judiciary Committee hearing next week on her effort to revive and expand an expired prohibition on the sale of certain assault weapons. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has signaled that Feinstein’s proposal will be voted on as part of the chamber’s debate on gun control, but it is not expected to go any further.
The senators praised other elected officials in attendance, including Gov. Daniel P. Malloy, D-Conn.
Malloy outlined new steps that he says Connecticut should take to strengthen gun control laws. While the state already has an assault weapons ban on the books, the existing law does not include a prohibition on the AR-15, the weapon used in the Newtown shooting. That point underscores the difficulty that advocates of a federal ban would have in crafting workable legislation, even if such a measure had a chance of passage.
“I am proposing that we change the definition of assault weapon to any semiautomatic that has at least one military characteristic, and ban the sale of these weapons in our state,” Malloy said. “We need to expand laws around gun storage so that these weapons don’t fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”
Connecticut does not have a limit on the number of rounds in gun clips or magazines, but Malloy’s proposal calls for imposing new limits. Malloy also called for accountability at the state level for people who leave firearms unlocked and unprotected, increasing the likelihood they fall into the hands of dangerous individuals.
“The fact is that if you sell guns, or work at a gun range, and you see or know of illegal activity involving a firearm or banned magazine, you have a responsibility to tell someone in law enforcement,” Malloy said. “If you see someone illegally using a banned weapon or magazine, you have an obligation to do something about that.”
Blumenthal stressed that state action alone will not be enough, since firearms frequently move across state lines.
“No one state can do it alone,” Blumenthal said. “Connecticut cannot do it alone.”