Vice President Biden stops in Virginia to discuss gun control with state officials
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 28, 2013, 12:46
photo by Caitlin Davis Vice President Joe Biden was flanked by Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Bobby Scott during the round table.
A week after President Barack Obama released a plan to curb gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden visited Richmond to discuss and fine tune proposals.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., Obama asked Biden to lead a task force to find solutions for the problem of gun violence. The panel included a group of experts from the law enforcement community, including Petersburg Police Chief, John Dixon.
At Virginia Commonwealth University on Friday, Biden participated in a roundtable discussion on gun control in the United States. The two-hour, closed door discussion, focused on the future of gun control and mental health issues in the nation and the steps taken in Virginia following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.
Joining the vice president at the table were Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Bobby Scott, Dixon and other administrative officials and experts who served on a review team following the Virginia Tech shooting.
Biden said the Virginia Tech event, which left 32 people dead and remains the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, was an example of why the country needs stronger background checks for people purchasing weapons.
“One of the problems pointed out here is there was an adjudication of a young man who committed a crime at Virginia Tech and yet he was able to go out and purchase weapons,” Biden stated after the conclusion of the roundtable.
After that shooting, then Gov. Tim Kaine and then Attorney General Bob McDonnell worked together to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals.
Biden also spoke of the most recent mass shooting in Conn. that left 26 dead, including 20 young children.
“Folks, you know we cannot remain silent, we cannot remain silent in this country,” Biden said. “What happened up in Newtown, those beautiful little babies, six, seven year olds riddled, riddled with bullets. I met with most of the parents. It is a national tragedy and a window into the vulnerability that people feel about their safety and the safety of their children.”
The conversation was also focused on mental health in the country, another topic that was examined by the Kaine administration in the wake of Virginia Tech. Biden said those sitting around the table on Friday agreed on the need to expand mental health capacity across all states.
photo by Caitlin Davis Biden was joined by other poliltical and law enforcement leaders for Friday’s panel.
“We talked about access and we talked about resources and it was pointed out we have a woefully inadequate number of trained professionals overall in the country,” Biden said, noting that those participating in the discussion agreed with the Affordable Health Care Act and other actions that might improve access to health care.
“The focus was on what the recommendation from these professionals on how we detect earlier than later those folks who would have the propensity to engage in that kind of activity that we saw at Virginia Tech, that we saw at Columbine, we saw in Aurora, that we saw in Conn,” he said.
Biden said that he and Obama agree there needs to be more fact-based research on how to determine that propensity and when it is possible and appropriate to intervene.
“Gun violence is either a problem or it’s not,” Kaine, newly initiated as a U.S. Senator, said after remarks from Biden. “That’s what the citizens have to decide for themselves and that’s what leaders have to decide for themselves. I think it’s a problem. I think Americans think it’s a problem. If there’s a problem, if we show steps you can take that work then it’s our goal to take those steps and that’s what this meeting is about, talking about the precise things you can do today and the precise things we can focus on long term that will work to reduce gun violence.”
Kaine said that there has been a recent “flurry” of bills related to background checks, high powered magazines, assault weapons and gun trafficking. Kaine said he is in support of such bills, if written and defined correctly, and said he is most supportive of a universal background check database.
“If you don’t like new laws and you just want to enforce existing laws then we all ought to be holding hands together and saying universal background checks makes sense,” Kaine said.
He addressed concerns that such checks could hamper 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms.
photo by Caitlin Davis Tim Kaine, who was governor of Virginia during the Virginia Tech shooting, said that he thinks gun violence is a problem and advocated for a background check database.
“It’s definitely not an infringement on Second Amendment rights. That argument is completely, legally inaccurate. Again, I think if anybody says they don’t like background checks, we need to go right back and say ‘So you want felons to have guns? You want domestic violence abusers to have guns? You want folks to have guns that are fugitives from justice?” Kaine said. “To be against a background records check is to say I want people to have guns illegally.”
Biden concluded by saying the discussion will continue as the administration plans similar roundtables across the country.
“We have an obligation to act, not wait,” Biden said. “And there’s certain things we know with certainty will diminish the prospects of what happened at Virginia Tech, what happened at the mass shootings, including Newtown.”
Biden also said the conversation needs to continue at the local level, not just the national level.
“We talked about how to deal about that problem overall in our cities and our counties, our communities,” Biden said.
Dixon heard that message from Biden. After being appointed to the vice president’s task force on guns, Dixon asked for feedback from the local community and said he is looking for ways to advance the conversation in the Tri-Cities.
“One of the discussions they just had with the VCU Chief is we need to sit down and kind of create our panel among Chiefs in the area, the schools in the area, and sit down and talk about how we can take a very proactive approach to some of the recommendations that have been put out there.”
Dixon, like Biden and Kaine, said the focus needs to be on a universal background check system.
“A couple of things they really wanted to emphasize on that we talked about was background checks, looking at those and making them universal and the importance behind that, from a law enforcement perspective, is that individuals who are not supposed to have guns.”
He said that those background checks may provide insight into mental health issues that have emerged as well.