WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden argued Wednesday that the primary election victory of a gun control advocate to represent Illinois in Congress sends a message that voters won't stand for inaction in response to shooting violence after the Connecticut school shooting.
Robin Kelly was elected Tuesday as the Democratic nominee in a Chicago-area district to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., forced out in an ethics scandal. She is a strong supporter of gun control, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political fund poured $2 million into television ads against an opponent who had been highly rated by the National Rifle Association.
Bloomberg and Biden met Wednesday at the White House, and the mayor echoed the vice president's assessment of the Illinois race. "Is it a harbinger of things to come? I think so," Bloomberg told reporters outside the West Wing. He argued that "voters of this congressional district understood that they and their children and grandchildren are at risk with guns on the streets."
The NRA argues the outcome proves nothing. NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox told The Associated Press in an interview that Bloomberg "just spent over $2 million to hold arguably the deepest blue seat in the U.S. House, in a race where the NRA spent zero and had no involvement."
Biden has been the White House's leader on pushing for gun control legislation, including a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and a push for universal background checks. The NRA opposes all the measures and argues they wouldn't have stopped the recent high-profile mass shootings across the country.
Biden told state attorneys general gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington that the Illinois race was a test case following the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "For the first time since Newtown, voters sent a clear unequivocal signal," Biden said.
"The voters sent a message last night, not just to the NRA but to the politicians all around the country by electing Robin Kelly, who stood up, who stood strong for gun safety totally consistent with our Second Amendment rights," Biden said. "The message is there will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction. This is not 1994. People know too much."
In 1994, Congress passed an assault weapons ban and some lawmakers who supported it paid an electoral price by being voted out of office, and Congress let the law expire after 10 years. But Biden argued the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 students and six workers has changed the gun debate in a way he's never seen.
"This senseless act not only shocked the conscience of the American people, but I believe it has changed and galvanized the attitude of the American people demanding concrete action. I've been doing this for a long time. The public mood has changed," Biden said, his voice rising to a yell. "The excuse that it's too politically risky to act is no longer acceptable. We cannot remain silent. We have to become the voices of those 20 beautiful children."
Cox agreed the debate has changed since 1994. "The difference between now and 1994 is that we had a decade to try his failed experience in gun control," Cox said. "What we're interested in are solutions that work with an honest discussion over what doesn't work."