Lessons from Va. Tech shooting shape Biden’s pitch on background checks

Updated
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. listens at left as Vice President Joe Biden gestures during a round table discussion on gun violence at Virginia Commonwealth...
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. listens at left as Vice President Joe Biden gestures during a round table discussion on gun violence at Virginia Commonwealth...
Steve Helber/AP

After defending the assault weapons ban during a “Fireside Hangout” Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden focused on background checks and mental health services during a roundtable Friday in gun-friendly Richmond, Virginia.

Biden led the discussion with officials who worked on gun safety issues in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who was governor at the time of the Virginia Tech mass shooting in which 32 young men and women were killed.

In remarks to reporters after the roundtable, Biden talked primarily about two of the key issues that played a role in the 2007 campus shooting: background checks and mental health resources. Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho was able to legally purchase the firearms used in his shooting because he had been ordered to outpatient mental health care, but not been committed to a psychiatric hospital, which would have shown up in the federal database.

Kaine spoke after the meeting about having helped to close that loophole and make other gun safety reforms with bi-partisan support during his time as governor. He was hopeful about the future. ”There are things you can do that work,” he said. “We don’t have to despair about being able to reduce gun violence.”

“The better background record check system you have, the safer you are,” he said. “To me that seems to be a very basic one, it’s a way of enforcing existing law.”

He also challenged politicians to step up on this issue. “Gun violence is either a problem or it’s not, that’s what citizens have to decide for themselves and that’s what leaders have to decide for themselves.”

“If it is a problem and if we’ve shown that there are steps that you can take that work, then it’s on our shoulders to take those steps,” he said.

Biden told reporters much of the conversation centered around how to identify those in need of mental health services and make sure they have the resources they need, while also calling for comprehensive research in that area.

Biden also strongly advocated the president’s proposal to close the background checks gun show loophole, arguing that it could help keep guns out of the hands of people who are legally barred from owning guns while having no impact on a legal gun owner’s rights.

The background checks loophole proposal has been the most popular part of the president’s agenda, garnering as much as 91% support in a recent poll.

Similar legislation had been proposed at the state level in Virginia, until a Senate committee voted 8-7 to reject the bill Wednesday.

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Lessons from Va. Tech shooting shape Biden's pitch on background checks

Updated