WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that the administration will continue to prioritize dealing with gun violence, casting it as an issue not just of protecting the public from mass shootings like Newtown, but of recasting American culture in a way that would affect everything down to the economy.
Addressing the United States Conference of Mayors at their winter meeting here, Biden focused on the gun recommendations that he had provided to President Barack Obama earlier this week, which the president formally recommended to Congress on Wednesday.
“I know you’ve come to talk about a broad range of very important issues that you’re facing in your cities and towns … but I didn’t come here to talk about any of those important subjects today because as important as they all are, today we have a more urgent and immediate call, and that is how to deal with the epidemic of gun violence in America,” Biden said.
In what is likely a preview of part of the administration’s pitch as they push for Congress to take up gun control measures, including bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and the institution of universal background checks, Biden made an appeal that mixed the emotional and the practical, and painted gun control as just one aspect in a move to curb the “coarsity” of American culture.
“Let me acknowledge the truth: too many in this country have been silent too long,” Biden said. “We cannot be silent any longer. … We have to speak for” the victims.
“There’s some who say the most powerful voice in the debate belongs to the gun lobbies and those who demand a stop to these common-sense approaches to saving lives. I think they’re wrong,” Biden said.
“This time will not be like times that have come before,” he predicted. “Newtown has shocked the nation. The carnage on our streets is no longer able to be ignored. We’re gonna take this fight to the halls of Congress, we’re gonna take it beyond that, we’re gonna take it to the American people, we’re gonna go around the country making our case, and we’re gonna let the voices, the voices of the American people be heard.”
Biden defended the intense focus on guns.
“We will be criticized, because people will say, ‘If we’re spending that much energy, we’re not spending enough energy on immigration, we’re not spending enough energy on the fiscal problem,'” he said. “Look, folks, presidents don’t get to choose what they deal with. They deal with what is before them, and then with what we’d like to do longterm.”
He recounted a conversation with Chicago Mayor Daley, in the 1990s, about what he would most like to do.
“He said, ‘Get rid of the drug problem. I’m saying that it could transform the economy of my city overnight.’ Gun violence falls into the same category,” Biden said.
He acknowledged that it was going to be a fight that required a lot of energy, and in doing so, cast the argument in much the same terms that Republicans use when discussing the need to bring down the national debt: the effect on future generations.
“I’ve been in this fight along time. I have no illusions about the fight that’s in front of us. I have no illusions about the distortions that will come from all sides. But I know full well the political obstacles that will be thrown up against us are not impenetrable. I have no illusions about how hard it’s gonna be. But I know this: we have no choice. We will not be able to look our kids and grand kids in the eye if we don’t use every energy, every fiber in our being to try to keep them safer. We will not be worthy of the generation that has to grow up now without those 20 innocent kids,” he said.
Biden suggested that the effort on guns was just one part of a larger effort to make American society less “coarse.”
“We will not be able to stop every act of senseless gun violence or any other gun violence, we know that, in the future. That’s no excuse to do nothing. It is not an excuse to do nothing. As the president said, if we can save even one it’s worth it. And I think we can begin, again, not because of guns alone, but I think we can begin an endeavor that stops the coarsity of American culture and society,” he said.