Vice President Joe Biden, angrily denouncing opponents of gun control, predicted Tuesday that senators who helped block an expansion of background checks for gun sales two months ago would pay a political price for their votes.
“I would say to my friends in the House and Senate, the country has changed. You will pay a political price for not getting engaged and dealing with gun safety,” Biden said during a White House event aimed at reviving stalled gun-control bills in Congress.
Biden also had harsh words for the Senate process that requires 60 votes to end debate on a bill and move forward to a vote on the legislation, calling the rule “perverted.” The background check bill failed on a 54-46 vote in mid-April with only four Senate Republicans joining all but four Democrat in voting yes.
Since the Newtown, Conn., shooting in December, Biden said “more people have died at the end of a gun than we have lost in Afghanistan. Pretty astounding. And Iraq, really. That’s no way to run a country.”
Repeatedly pledging that he and President Obama would not give up on pursuing greater limits on guns, he pointed to progress on nearly two dozen actions Obama and the administration have taken on their own in an attempt to reduce gun violence.
The steps range from addressing barriers that keep states from submitting records to the existing background check system, ensuring that law enforcement agencies trace guns recovered in investigations, to providing schools and communities with emergency response guidelines.
The White House began Tuesday’s effort to kick-start the gun control debate with a dramatic story. Biden was introduced by Stephen Barton, a recent graduate of Syracuse University who survived gunshots to the head and torso during the mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last year.
Instead of taking a Fulbright position teaching English in Russia after recovering, Barton joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The group is financed and led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“If you want reason for optimism, you’re looking at it,” Biden said, draping his arm around Barton’s shoulders and giving him a big squeeze.
Even though the administration has fulfilled 21 of 23 executive actions Obama promised in a January speech, Biden acknowledged that Congress would have to get involved to make real progress in the fight against gun violence.
“As proud as the president and I am of progress we’ve made, we need Congress to act,” Biden said to an audience that included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder. “We need everyone in the country to know the fight is not over.”
The Obama administration and gun control advocates had wanted to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, but the Senate was averse to any additional limits, thwarting early efforts to expand an already existing background check to gun shows and Internet sales.
The National Rifle Association, which quickly mobilized against the bill, said it would trample on Second Amendment rights and criminalize certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens.
Reacting to Biden’s progress report, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the White House was defying the will of the people by taking unilateral, albeit small-scale actions.
“[Biden] said that there has been changes compared to past debates. What I’d like to say is there is one big change: We have Michael Bloomberg spending tens of millions of dollars trying to pressure senators into following him instead of listening to their constituents,” he said.The executive actions were a product of Biden’s gun-control task force formed after the Dec. 14 slayings of 20 children at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. Afterward, Obama called on the country to put politics aside and come together to take meaningful action to prevent more shootings.
Despite Biden’s warning of a political backlash, Congress has shown little appetite to restart talks on gun control bills after the background check bill defeat in mid-April. A senior administration official would not say whether any senators had moved to their side, although he said the White House has continued to engage members of Congress on the topic.