Vice President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to have the "courage" to pass legislation addressing gun violence on Thursday at a conference in Connecticut just 10 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, scene of the Dec. 14 mass shooting.
"We have an obligation to act," Biden said of America's politicians, after meeting with two parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook. "You all should know there is a moral price to be paid for inaction."
Biden said a "consensus" is forming around closing loopholes that allow some gun buyers to evade background checks, banning high-capacity magazines and banning some semi-automatic weapons. The vice president also said additional funding should be provided to put more law enforcement officers on the streets and to make mental health services more widely available.
Biden specifically targeted the AR-15 rifle in his speech, mocking those who argue it's a self-defense or recreational weapon and thus should not be banned. "There are plenty of ways you can protect yourself and recreate without an AR-15," Biden said. He later expressed disbelief at the idea that banning a 100-round drum, such as was used in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting last summer, would infringe upon anyone's Second Amendment rights.
The symposium, held at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, was hosted by Connecticut Democratic lawmakers Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty. It included panel discussions with local, state and national leaders; law enforcement; mental health experts; sportsmen; faith leaders; and families and survivors of gun violence.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the conference before Biden, telling the audience that the issue of gun violence is personal to him because of his childhood growing up on the violent South Side of Chicago. "When you grow up and see your mentors and role models dying, that has a huge impact on you," he said. "We think the current status quo is unacceptable."
Biden became the White House's lead on gun violence after President Barack Obama chose him to head up a gun reform task force in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Biden in 1994 was the architect of legislation that temporarily banned assault weapons. The president and Biden have been advocating to reinstate that ban as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks and other measures they believe will reduce gun violence.