WASHINGTON – A scrappy Vice President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to "beat the gun lobby" by ultimately passing stronger firearm laws and said some lawmakers who voted against background checks have privately told him they want another chance.
With President Barack Obama away in Europe, Biden held a White House event to announce progress on executive orders to reduce gun violence while stressing the need for congressional action that has eluded them. "We have not given up," Biden repeatedly declared during a 25-minute speech in the South Court Auditorium next to the West Wing where he Obama announced a gun safety push in January.
"This fight isn't over, far from it," Biden said.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted against legislation in April that would have expanded background checks for firearm purchases to gun shows and online sales, and so far no lawmaker who voted against it has announced a change of their vote. But Biden said he's gotten calls from senators who voted no to ask, "Can you find a way for us to revisit this?" He did not identify any of the callers.
"I know for a fact some of them now wonder whether that was a prudent vote," Biden said. He said lawmakers who do not support improved gun safety will "pay a political price" because voters want change after December's shooting at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 20 first graders and six staff.
"We have yet to succeed in the House and Senate, but we will," Biden predicted.
However, Senate Democratic leaders have yet to gain enough votes to try again to pass background checks. National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said those who voted against background checks are following the wishes of their constituents despite a campaign against them, including advertising being funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Undoubtedly a lot of pressure is being placed on them, but the one thing they have right now is support from voters in their state. And that's the most important thing to have," Arulanandam said in response to Biden.
Biden was introduced by Stephen Barton, a victim of last year's movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., who now is working to push for stronger laws with Bloomberg's group. The vice president opened his remarks by saying he wished they were gathered there to celebrate a legislative victory.
But instead he announced that the administration has completed or significantly advanced 21 of the 23 executive actions that Obama ordered in January in response to Sandy Hook. As an example, Biden held up newly completed federal emergency response planning guides for schools and houses of worship to prepare for a shooting, tornado or other disasters.
The two executive orders with the most remaining work are finalizing regulations to require insurers to cover mental health at parity with medical benefits, expected later this year, and putting a confirmed director at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Obama's nominee to head the ATF, B. Todd Jones, had a Senate hearing last week but has little chance of advancing amid political wrangling over a position that hasn't been confirmed in six years.