RICHMOND, VA — By now, Vice President Biden has the pitch down pat: background checks, background checks, background checks.
After a roundtable meeting with Cabinet secretaries, area elected officials and those who dealt with the aftermath of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, Biden gathered reporters into a room on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University and once again told them the answer was universal background checks.
“What we talked about — and there seemed to be a pretty broad consensus — is that … those who under the law are able to be constitutionally denied access to weapons like someone who is adjudicated, not overtly capable because of their mental capacity, and/or is a convicted felon, and/or someone who has been guilty of domestic violence — under the law they are not allowed to own a weapon,” Biden said, surrounded by his panel of experts in Virginia. “One of the problems that was pointed out here is there was an adjudication with the young man who committed the crime at Virginia Tech and yet he was able to go out and purchase two weapons.”
“And so we talked about the notion of universal background checks,” Biden said.
Biden has been doing a lot of this lately. After he created the plan as leader of the White House gun violence task force, Biden then became the chief salesman for the package once Obama officially debuted it. Over the past week or so, Biden has given a speech about guns to the National Conference Of Mayors, appeared in a Google+ hangout to talk guns and finally the roundtable with national and local officials here. He promised there would be more trips like the one to Virginia.
“We’re going to continue to go around the country and tap into those people who have experienced similar circumstances,” Biden said. “We cannot remain silent in this country.”
Biden is the man President Obama has chosen to lead the fight for firearms regulation. With his signature pantomime-shotgun-firing story, personal anecdotes about his own shotguns at home and willingness to pitch shotguns as defense against roving marauders in a post-earthquake hellscape, Biden has actively strived to push the conversation away from the classic battle between gun control advocates and gun rights proponents. Instead, he’s cast the current battle over firearms laws as a kind of fight between the gun-rational and the gun-irrational.
And that’s meant a discussion of background checks. Just about everyone thinks it’s basically impossible to get a new ban on so-called assault weapons passed through Congress, and gun control groups have already said a ban isn’t their focus after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The focus is background checks — closing the loopholes in the existing system that studies have said allow 40 percent of gun sales to proceed without finding out if the person buying a gun is legally allowed to do so. Biden is the Pied Piper of this cause, using his roadshow to sell the idea of background checks a rational tweak of existing law rather than a new limit on firearms ownership.
“Some folks say, ‘just enforce the laws that are on the books,’” Biden said. “Let’s take the law on the books that says all those folks who have been adjudicated are incapable of owning a gun under the law. Make sure we have access to their names. That’s why there’s a need for universal background checks.”
Biden’s traveling gun show also includes talk of mental health, new school counseling programs, improved sharing of data among government agencies, a ban on high-capacity magazines and all the other things in the president’s gun violence package. But there’s little talk of assault weapons. While widely supported by many in the President’s base, a ban on assault weapons doesn’t have the legislative chance that the other things do. And so Biden, with his focus on wooing gun rights supporters to his cause, seems to be keeping it out of his script.