The Ticket

Biden warns Congress on gun reform: ‘You will pay a price’

The Ticket

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Vice President Joe Biden (Fernando Vergara/AP)

Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, seeking to revive efforts to pass gun-reform legislation in Congress, warned lawmakers opposed to reform that Americans aren't on their side.

"The country has changed" since the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Biden said during remarks delivered on Tuesday afternoon in the White House's South Court auditorium. Lawmakers "will pay a price—a political price ... for not getting engaged and dealing with gun safety."

Two months after the Senate failed to support the expansion of background checks for gun purchasers despite intense pressure from the administration, victims rights groups and others, the White House announced on Tuesday that the issue remains a top priority for the administration and its supporters in Congress and elsewhere.

"This fight isn’t over. Far from it," Biden said.

Before Biden's remarks, the White House, in an attempt to demonstrate commitment to the issue of reducing gun violence, announced on Tuesday that the administration has completed or made progress—Biden later described it as "major progress"—on 21 out of 23 executive actions. The actions were produced by a gun violence task force the vice president led after the Newtown shooting and were issued by President Barack Obama in January.

Progress, Biden said, has been made on ending the ban on government research of gun violence, creating incentives for states to share information about potentially dangerous gun purchasers, enhancing the tracking of guns recovered in criminal investigations and more.

He also announced that guides from the departments of Education, Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services that can help develop "high-quality emergency operations plans" for K-12 schools, higher-education institutions and places of worship have been released. He said 100 school districts nationwide now have increased access to resources including federal training on shooter situations.

“The Administration has more work to do to complete the remainder of the executive actions that the President announced in January," a progress report released on Tuesday by the White House reads. "But Congress must also act. Passing common-sense gun safety legislation, including expanding background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, remains the single most important step we could take to reduce gun violence.”

The report repeats a line often used during the Senate’s debate of expanded background checks: "A vast majority of the American people” support these steps.

“It is time for Congress to take action and get this done," the report adds.

Many stakeholders in the gun debate believed the administration’s best chance to get Congress to pass gun-reform measures died with the failed vote for expanded background checks in April, when Newtown was fresh in the minds of the public and politicians and many interest groups were active in the debate over gun violence.

But the administration and Senate Democratic leaders were unable to wrangle support from key Democrats from guns rights states in addition to select Republicans.

“It came down to politics,” Obama said as he chastised Congress from the Rose Garden the night of the April 17 vote. “They caved to the pressure.”

Obama added, “All in all, this was a pretty shameful day in Washington."

The White House says it has continued to publicly court Congress, but other than Biden’s recent event on mental illness, it has held few public events related to gun violence.

When pressed about whether the administration is pursuing potential swing Democrats in the Senate on the issue of background checks with the same intensity as it did during the Senate’s spring gun debate, the White House has mostly declined to offer any specifics other than to confirm that conversations are ongoing.

On Monday, a senior administration official once again declined to release details about these types of meetings, saying the White House remains "engaged with members of Congress" on the issue.

During his remarks on Tuesday, Biden declined to mention lawmakers by name, but said that "he knows" some senators who voted against expanded background checks "wonder now whether that was a prudent vote."

He added that he's received "phone calls from those members of Congress—many of whom voted no" asking for the administration to "find a way for us to revisit this."

The vice president said, "We need to make sure the voices of those we lost are the loudest ones we hear in this fight."

The two executive actions where progress has not been made, according to the report, are confirming a director to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (something up to Congress as the administration has already nominated Todd Jones, who has served as acting director) and hashing out mental health benefits with Health and Human Services.

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