The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School sparked a national discussion about reducing gun violence and keeping kids safe. In response, Vice President Joe Biden developed the Administration's gun control and gun safety proposals, and he has become the leading advocate for their passage. In an exclusive Facebook video town hall, the Vice President sat down with Michael Kress, executive editor of Parents.com, to answer questions -- which were posted on our Facebook page by you, our readers -- about this topic.
What follows are videos of the chat and a transcript of it. (Or watch the full video of our town hall with Joe Biden.)
The first question comes from Mary Metzger Nadal. She asks, "If you can enact only one single law or regulation in regard to gun control, what do you believe would be the most effective one?"
Mary, I don't think there's any one law that would be most effective. From the outset I pointed out that this is a complicated issue, and there's a multitask we have here, to keep our children and our society safer. That includes background checks to keep guns out of the hands of people who under the law are not entitled to own them, whether they're convicted felons or whether they're fugitives from justice or whether they are people convicted of spousal assault, etc., and people with adjudicated mental illnesses that disqualify them.
Also, there's a need for us to deal with gun safety in the home, it's only rational. Having raised children -- and Mary, if you read Parents Magazine, my guess is you have, or are planning to have, children -- you want to know that guns are kept safely out of reach of children. You keep the cookies on the second shelf so they can't reach in and grab them all the time. People should not be in a position where their children have access to weapons and ammunition.
Thirdly, there is a need for us to make sure that, in my view when talking to police officers, they say they are being outgunned in the street. Something needs to be done [about] these high caliber weapons with magazines that hold multiple, multiple rounds that are referred to quite often as assault weapons. They need help. They are literally outgunned.
We also need to deal with the whole mental health aspect of this issue. Parents who have children and/or people who need help and they know they need some help, are often unable to get it because it's either not affordable or not available to them. There is a probability that some of the god-awful things we've seen could be avoided. For example, there are close to 20,000 people who commit suicide by the use of a gun [every year]. Who knows whether or not if there are greater mental health resources available, a lot of those lives may have been may be saved.
There's also a need for us to see to it that, in addition to background checks, as well as limitations on magazines and assault weapons, and mental health, that we begin to educate the public about physical school safety. When I wrote the Biden Crime Bill in 1994, there was a provision that allowed for school resource officers, and that is to have a sworn officer in a school who would be there [and] available and establish relationships with the children in that school, and gain the confidence of them, so that a child, a student, would feel comfortable saying, "You know, Officer John, when so-and-so opened his locker today, there was the butt of a pistol hanging out of the top of his locker." Or, "There's going to be a drug deal going down in school, behind the school," etc. We've found that those school resource officers were of value in many schools. We haven't been funding them of late. We think they should be funded. We think we should give the local school districts the option of having an armed policeman or an unarmed policeman, or for that matter, if they conclude they'd rather have a counselor in the school, school a psychologist, they could use the money for those purposes.
But there are multiple things that have to be done, none of which are going to solve the whole problem, and all of which, all of which combined will not prevent all, all violent use of weapons illegally in our society.
Thank you. We'll ask you to expand on many pieces of that over the course of the next few minutes. Samantha Phillips asks, "If the ban on drugs did not work with taking them off the street, how do you think a ban on guns is going to be different?"
Well, Samantha, there is no ban on guns. No one's banning the guns. No one's taking my shotguns. I have two shotguns at home and they're in a cabinet, they're locked, there's ammunition there as well. No one's going to come and take my gun. No one's going to take anyone's gun. We're talking about a background check. The analogy to if there was a ban on drugs, how would any regulation of the type of weapon available out there, why would that make sense? --Are you suggesting we just legalize all drugs? Is that what you're suggesting? That would go real well on Parents magazine. Let's talk about everybody being able to no matter what your age, go out and be able to purchase cocaine. What do you think about that idea? Look. These comparisons are not appropriate, quite frankly.
But secondly, the idea that you should have no law unless the law you have prevents all violations of that law -- that is not the way society works. The moral disapprobation of society has an impact on behavior in societies. And the moral disapprobation of the idea that you can leave a loaded gun around your house -- there shouldn't be gun safety practiced by families that own weapons etc. -- is a very important element in seeing to greater gun safety and security for our children.
'We're Talking About Making It Safer for Our Children'
Kate Ernest has the next question. She asks, "Do you believe that banning certain weapons and high capacity magazines will mean that law-abiding citizens will then become more of a target to criminals, as we will have no way to sufficiently protect ourselves?"
Is this Parents magazine? I have Parents magazine in my home. I've never heard anybody in Parents magazine ask these kinds of questions. But I'm delighted to answer them. First of all, Kate: If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun. Have the shells of 12-gauge shotgun, and I promise you, as I told my wife, we live in an area that's wooded and somewhat secluded, I said, "Jill, if there's ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out, put that double barrel shotgun, and fire two blasts outside the house." I promise you, whoever is coming in is not going to.
You don't need an AR-15. It's harder to aim, it's harder to use, and in fact you don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.
Ellen Seidman, a blogger for Parents.com, asks a question about guns that are already out there: "Some people say that gun control isn't going to help, given all the guns that are already out there. What do you say to naysayers like that?"
We're not talking about gun control; we're talking about gun safety. We're talking about making it safer for our children. I was around a long time ago when we were taking lead out of gasoline. There were a lot of cars like my car, a 1967 Corvette I had as a young man, still have it, it runs better on leaded gasoline. There were millions of cars on the road in the early 70s when we banned lead in gasoline. Everyone said, "Why would you do that? You still have all these cars out there, all these cars out there, that use leaded gasoline, and have to use, leaded gasoline for the engines to function." The answer was, over time, over time, they will be off the market.
The idea of not making us healthier by saying from this point on you can't have lead in gasoline is a little like saying, if in fact we know that magazines with 30 clips in them are of no value whatsoever in terms of your physical safety -- you can get by with 10 rounds in a clip, you can get by with a shotgun -- therefore why not just keep these multiple magazines out there? Why not just keep them going? It will not solve the whole problem.
But the truth of the matter is we shouldn't continue to make mistakes if we in fact acknowledge that having that young man who was in a movie theater in Colorado, having a shell case magazine that could hold 100 rounds -- so I just think there are a lot of rational things we can do that will increase the prospect that fewer people would be the victim of gun violence. And we should do them.
And what about illegal guns? Don Stoeckel asks about illegally obtained weapons and what specifically you are going to do about getting those off the streets?
Well, there are three or four things. One is, that, to keep more from going on to the streets, we believe there should be universal background checks. Everyone who purchases a weapon has to have a background check. Universal. Everyone. It's estimated, and there's no hard data, that 40% of all the weapons purchased today are purchased by avoiding a background check. That should end, number one.
Number two: We think that, in fact, there should be a national gun trafficking legislation. When you go to your local police officer, your police chief in the town you live in, big or small, he will tell you the vast majority of the weapons recovered at a crime scene are either stolen weapons, and/or they have been "lost" or stolen. One of the things we think should be required is everyone who loses a weapon should be required to report it, that they lost the weapon. Or that, in fact, the weapon was stolen, they should say that it was stolen, helping the police be able to trace the gun found at a crime scene to get to the criminal by following through with the serial number that -- from the manufacturer, they exist already in the law -- to determine who had possession of that gun, who committed the crime.
There are a number of things in a federal gun trafficking law that will help us deal with these stolen and lost weapons that are the ones used by and acquired by criminals. We may find that not all of them are stolen. Maybe they're illegally being sold on the side. Maybe they're in fact not lost, maybe they were given to the criminal. And so there's a number of things we can do to impact upon the use of weapons that are not legally purchased, or stolen or lost, in the hands of criminals.
'You Don't Have to Amend the Second Amendment'
Let's talk for a minute about the Second Amendment. We got a lot of questions about that, and Laura Garza posted an opinion that was echoed by a lot of people who wrote to us, and I want to ask you to respond to what she said. She writes, "The banning of any type of gun is an infringement on the Second Amendment. Criminals obviously don't abide by laws and can illegally purchase assault rifles. I want to keep my right to purchase such weaponry if I choose to do so."
Well, how can I say this politely? The law does, the constitution does allow the government to conclude that there are certain types of weapons that no one can legally own. Now, if that were not the case, then you should be able to go buy a flamethrower that the military has. You should be able go, if you're a billionaire, buy an F-15 loaded with ordinates. You should be able to buy an M1 tank. You should be able to buy a machine gun. You should be able to buy a grenade launcher. And you can't do those things.
So if you acknowledge that it's within the scope of the government for public safety under the Second Amendment to limit the certain types of weapons you cannot possess, then the question comes down to, what is the effect on your individual right to own a weapon if the government says there are certain weapons that are characterized -- and the police are concerned about them -- called assault weapons that can fire 30 rounds of high-caliber bullets and have the features of folding stock, they have the features of an assault weapon used by the military? If there isn't any question that, constitutionally, the federal government and the state government can outlaw certain types of weapons.
Now the question is, what is the balance between you being able to have the right to defend yourself and the right to engage in sporting activities that, in fact, are totally legitimate and legal, and the kind of weapon that is outlawed? The fact of the matter is that, those AR-15's for example, like the weapon used by the young man to kill those 20 innocent, beautiful, little babies up in Newtown, that weapon is not necessary for your self defense. You could defend yourself as easily if you had a weapon that had 10 rounds in it instead of 20 or 30 -- whatever number [will become the legal limit under the Obama Administration proposals] has not been made public yet, but multiple, multiple, multiple rounds. You can also defend yourself, and nobody goes out. Most sportsmen don't have a magazine with 30 rounds in it when they go deer hunting. As one sportsman said to me, if you can't get the deer in the second or third shot, you shouldn't be out there hunting deer.
So the question is, what's the balance? What can we do that would not prevent you from having exercising every right you have to defend yourself, and at the same time engage in recreation or hunting or sporting activities that would not be limited by the elimination of that particular weapon? That's the balance. We can argue about where that balance is, but there isn't any argument that the government can, in fact, impact on that balance.
On the other hand, Rob Floyd asks, "Is there some way we can amend the Second Amendment and bring it into modern times? These assault weapons and oversized ammo clips have only one purpose: rapid-fire killing."
You don't have to amend the Second Amendment to be able to eliminate assault weapons and limit the number of shells, of bullets in a magazine, a clip. And I don't think we should amend the Second Amendment.
Many of our users asked about the example set by Chicago and Connecticut where they do have some strict gun laws. Jessica Forgue Popow writes, "Chicago has the strictest gun control laws in the country and is among the nations leaders in murders and gun violence. Please explain how stricter gun control will prevent gun violence."
No one city can be an oasis in the middle of the desert. In the major cities of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, most of the guns recovered at a crime scene are those weapons that have come from Indiana or Pennsylvania or wherever, not the city and not the state in which they have the strict gun laws. And that's why there's a need for some universal sanity in the type of weapon that can be sold, and the need for universal background checks. And that's the rationale.
But the city of New York, I forget the number, but more than half of the guns recovered at the [crime] scenes, none of them are purchased in New York and very few are from the state of New York. They are from Florida and Alabama and other places around the country. And the same thing exists in Chicago or Los Angeles or any other major cities in America.
Let's talk a little bit more about school safety. Claire Farish Brimmer asks, "Does it make sense to provide armed guards for our schools, like those that are provided for government buildings?" You talked a little bit about this before, but I'd like to hear a little bit more about this issue.
The answer is, Claire, I think not, and let me tell you why. Speaking of Chicago, the mayor of Chicago had a great line. He said, "Our schools are some of the safest places in the world for our children. The dangerous place is walking to and from school." So the vast majority of schools in America are safe. Doesn't mean any one public place is immune from a mass murderer deciding they're going to use that venue to engage in mass murder with an assault weapon or a weapon that has multiple rounds that they can fire and continue to re-fire by just dropping a new clip in with 10, 20, 30, 40 bullets in it.
Now, what I do think is, I do think there are ways we can make schools safer. One of the things you've got to ask?if you read Parents magazine, again I'm assuming you're a parent or a grandparent or you're about to be a parent -- and that is, Do you want your child walking into a circumstance where everything about the circumstances says, 'I feel unsafe?' Do you want your child to have to walk through a metal detector? Do you want your child to have to walk in a classroom with armed guards? That is not -- that's like a siege mentality.
Schools should be a place where kids are at ease and they can flourish and they can feel safe. And the issue of whether or not you have a school resource officer in the school who gets to know the students in that school, who is engaging with them, that's a judgment for a locality to make, a local school district, a local school. But the idea of having essentially a situation where you go through a metal detector, where you're frisked, where you have to take your shoes off, where you're in a position where you have to empty your knapsack, your backpack, or your books -- that is not an environment I think most people who read Parents magazine would want their children to have to go through.
'Gun Safety Is an Important Element'
From schools, let's turn to the safety of guns that are kept at home. Tessa Gray asks, "Should parents who don't have guns in their homes demand to know which of their children's friends are gun owners?"
Look, Tessa, that's a judgment for every parent to make. For example, as a parent raising my children, I wanted to know, when they were younger, when they were going to do an overnight at someone's home. When they were in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th grade, I wanted to know if they had a swimming pool, whether or not it was locked or there was a gate. That's not an unreasonable thing for me to ask. When my kids were 14, 15, and 16 at the time when kids start experimenting, I liked to know if they were having a party, whether or not the parents locked the liquor cabinet. That's just me.
I don't think it's irrational for you to ask whether or not there are guns in the home and how they're stored. For example, in my home, I have five grandchildren. They're around all the time. I have two shotguns that are locked in the safe. There's a gun case that is metal, and there's a combination. I could get to it really quickly if I thought my home was being invaded, to try to protect myself, but I keep the ammunition and the guns in that case. I don't think it's irrational for you to ask whether or not, if there are guns in the home, are they under lock and key or are they in a place where children don't have access to it. You read every day about accidental shootings; kids don't mean to do. I think that parents who have children at home, I think they should have gun safety classes or education, so you know whether there's a bullet in the chamber or how to be sure that the gun is not loaded.
I remember my dad, my dad was a hunter -- I am not a hunter -- my dad was a hunter and he always had rifles. I remember the first time he took me out in a field, and we were going to go bird hunting. We ended up not for reasons that are too complicated, but he had to go back to work. I remember him taking a shotgun and we were in a field and there was an old three-rail fence in this field. And he took the shotgun and he said, "I want you to see something, Joey," and he blew, with one shot of the 12-gauge shotgun, blew the rail of the boarded fence apart. He just blew it apart because he wanted me to understand the power, the power, of what I had in my hands.
You teach your kids how to safely operate a car. You teach them how to safely deal with something that could do damage to someone else accidentally. Or to themselves. And so I think it makes sense. I think gun safety is an important element of what we're talking about here. We're not legislating that. We're not legislating that. But again, I think the more people become aware of what's going on, the more that there's sort of the imperative to make sure that children who are curious do not have access to these weapons, and/or if they have access, if you've trained them, they've been trained, so they competently can handle -- If they're going out to bird hunt with you or target shoot, they should be trained -- and I think most are, by the way.
Look, there is a really healthy gun culture in this country. The state I come from, the and family I come from, guns were part of my father's ethic. My father was a responsible man, and so we were taught, we were taught, you don't play with a gun, you don't handle it, you don't pick up a gun even when you know it's loaded and point . We weren't even allowed, when we were playing cops and robbers, to point a cowboy, a cap gun at someone. You just don't do that. So there's certain basic things I think any family that owns a weapon, owns a gun, should be training their children about so they don't accidentally get themselves in trouble.
You mentioned not legislating around that. I have a question from Missy Carson Smith. She writes that she's the sister of a boy killed 27 years ago in a school-related shooting. Her own daughter went to her first play date and weeks later, she found out about an unlocked gun in the home. She asks, "What are legislators willing to do to present the message that all parents should be conversing about the issue of gun accessibility at the household level?"
Missy, first of all, I'm sorry for what you've been through. Look, it's a complicated decision. A Supreme Court decision relating to gun safety. There was a District of Columbia ordinance that said that you had to keep your firearm, when you were in your home, you had to keep it locked up and unloaded and locked -- I'm not sure unloaded, but you had to keep it locked away. And the Supreme Court ruled that you cannot require someone to have their weapon in a place where it was not accessible for their self-defense. And so they said that you could not in all circumstances or your home [have a law that says] you cannot have a weapon that is loaded in your home.
That still doesn't mean you can't be responsible, in making sure if it is loaded and it's accessible, that only you and not your children. It still does not say, it's unclear whether or not when you're not in your home, should you be required to have it under lock and key, so if your kids are in and out while you're at work or you're out of the house. So it's still an untested area, but again I think the vast majority of the American people are serious and responsible, and I think the vast overwhelming majority of gun owners are incredibly responsible.
In fact, keeping the weapon out of the reach of children or strangers is just common sense. And I think you're going to see some initiatives come along that are going to try to find out the limits of that D.C. case. I think there is room that people will be able to legislate in the District of Columbia and other places to increase the prospects that a loaded weapon is not within the reach of a stranger or family member who is not competent to use it.
I'd like to close with a question about what role, if any, do you think violent video games as well as TV and movies play in spurring gun violence? There was a report out just this morning that video games may have played some sort of role for Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter.
Well there is a lot of speculation about that, and that's why one of the things we're pushing very hard that I didn't mention to you is lifting the ban on the ability of the CDC -- the Centers for Disease Control -- and NIH, National Institute of Health, to be able to do studies on gun violence. The NRA and others have actually pushed legislation, and attached what they call riders to appropriations bills saying no agency of the federal government can actually study gun violence at all. One of the things that I think we should be studying is the issue of whether or not there is any empirical data to suggest that access to some extremely violent video games to young people actually impacts on their behavior.
There are a couple studies from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry indicates that it may impact on behavior, but there is no hard data. That's why one of the things the President and I are suggesting is that there be well-funded studies by really first-rate people and determining whether or not there is any association between violent video, violent films, and behavior, particularly on young people. There's not enough hard data to make that judgment now, but we have to lift the restrictions on the government to be able to study those issues.
Watch the full video of the Parents town hall with Vice President Biden about gun safety and gun violence.
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