Standing before an audience of local, state and federal officials, Vice President Joe Biden delivered a stirring keynote address at a conference on gun violence that included family members of the 26 victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“My heart goes out to you,” Biden said, noting that he met with several family members of the victims directly before his address and intended to meet with more afterwards. “I deeply, deeply admire your courage. This is not easy for you… to just be in this room.”
The vice president, who served as the main speaker during a gun violence forum at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury on Thursday, Feb. 21, spoke about how he never had the courage that Newtown families had.
Having lost a daughter and wife in a car accident over three decades ago, Biden said he didn’t have the courage to do what these Newtown parents who lost their own children on Dec. 14 are doing — facing the tragedy.
“We can’t remain silent,” Biden said, his voice growing more audible throughout the WestConn community center, a handful of miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We have to speak for all of those voices. We have to speak for those 20 beautiful children who died 65 days ago. We have to speak for those six adults who died protecting them,” he said.
From there, the discussion turned to legislation and initiatives the federal government could take to help reduce gun violence, including implanting universal background checks, federal gun trafficking statutes and banning high-capacity magazines.
Biden said that lawmakers need to show political courage in enacting sensible gun reforms and taking on the a “third rail of politics.”
"People say and you read and people write about the political risks (of gun control) and why they're unacceptable to take on," Biden said. "I say it's unacceptable not to take this on…and 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."
"America has changed on this issue," Biden said. "We all know the American people are with us…you all should know there's a moral price to pay for inaction."
Biden said a ban on assault weapons had nothing to do with the Second Amendment, and there was no way to argue that a weapon like the AR-15 - one of the guns that Adam Lanza used in the Newtown shootings - was intended for self-defense or recreation.
"They say assault weapons like the AR-15 are needed for self-protection and recreation," he said. "They are not. There's plenty of ways you can protect yourself and recreate without an AR-15."
Here are the gun control measures Biden said that he and President Barack Obama support:
- Universal background checks: Every buyer needs to be vetted for the purchase of a firearm, as Biden said that 46 percent of guns purchased now don’t require background checks.
- Improved records to allow states to track felons: There is no national database tracking those who served jail time or are not permitted to possess firearms. Biden suggested instituting such a system so that if a convicted felon from Montana tries to buy a gun in Connecticut, that person’s felony status will come up during the purchasing process.
- Eliminating high-capacity magazines that hold 30-100 rounds: Biden said there is “no rational reason why someone would need to carry a 100-round drum like the Aurora shooter carried.”
- Federal gun trafficking statutes: “Making sure prosecutors can go after the so-called straw purchases," Biden said.
- Increasing mental health services: Biden said this should especially be for young people between ages 16 and 25, who are “the most vulnerable to mental health problems.”
- More sworn law enforcement officers on the streets.
- Studying what effects violent videogames and media has on youth.