Joe Biden Answers Your Gun Safety Questions
In a video chat with Parents, the vice president discusses gun safety at home and in schools, the Second Amendment and the Administration’s proposed new gun laws, and the shotguns he owns to keep his family safe.
-Thank you Mr. Vice President for making the time to speak with the readers of Parents Magazine and Parents.com today. I'm Michael Kress and I'm the Executive Editor of Parents.com. The question of how to reduce gun violence and how to keep our kids safe is at the top of all of our minds. We asked our readers to submit any questions on Facebook, and it's clear from what they posted that they, like Americans as a whole, disagree sharply about how to achieve that goal of keeping our kids safe. I'd like to ask you just a few of the great questions that were asked on Facebook. 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. I think from the outset I pointed out 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 who are 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, and I have having raised children and, Mary, you probably if you read Parents Magazine my guess is you have children or planning to have your children, you wanna know that guns are kept safely out of the reach of children. You keep the cookies on the second shelf so they can't reach it 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 we, in my view, when talking to police officers, they say they are being outgunned in the street and something need to be done by these high-caliber weapons with magazines that hold multiple, multiple rounds that are referred to quite often as assault weapons, and they need help. They're literally outgunned. We also need to deal with the whole mental health aspect of this issue. Parents who have children who and/or people who need help when they know they need some help are often unable to get it because it's either not affordable or not available to them, and 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 who knows whether or not if their greater mental health resource is available, a lot of those lives may be saved. There's also a need for us to see to it that in addition to background checks and 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 so-called crime bill, not so called, I referred to it as 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 the school who would be there available in established relationships with the children in that school and gain the confidence of them so that a child would feel, the student would feel comfortable saying, "You know, John or officer John, you know when so and so opened his locker today, there was a butt of a pistol hanging out of the top of his locker or there's gonna be a drug deal going down in the school behind the school," etc. We 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. I think we should give the local school district 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 psychologist, they could use the money for those purposes. But there's multiple things that have to be done, none of which are gonna solve the whole problem and all of which combined will not prevent 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. -Okay. -Samantha Philips 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 is banning the gun. No one is taking my shotguns. I have 2 shotguns at home. They're in a cabinet. They're locked. There's ammunition there as well. No one is gonna come and take my gun. No one is gonna take anyone's gun. We're talking about a background check, and the analogy to if there's a ban on drugs, how could a ban on, you know, how would any regulation of the type of weapon available out there, why would that make sense. Are you suggesting we have no, we just legalize all drugs? Is that what you're suggesting? That would go real well in Parents Magazine. Let's talk about everybody being able to no 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 on you should have no law unless the law you have prevents all violations to that law. That is not the way society works. That is not the way 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 and seemed to there's greater gun safety and security for our children. -Thanks. Kate Earnest 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?" This sentiment came up again and again. -Is this Parents Magazine? -It is. -I have Parents Magazine at home. I've never heard anybody in Parents Magazine ask these kinds of questions, but I'm delighted to answer them. First of all, the idea that-- repeat the last part of the question, please. -So she's asking if a ban goes into effect on certain kinds of weapons and high-capacity magazines. -And what's her name? -Kate. -Kate. If you wanna 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 2 blasts outside the house. I promise you whoever is coming in is not gonna, 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 who's a blogger for Parents.com asks a question about the 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. The idea that it's a little bit like when they said, you know, I was around a long time ago when we were taking lead out of gasoline, okay? There are a lot of cars like my car, a Corvette I had as young man, still have it, 1967 Corvette. It runs better on leaded gasoline. There were millions of cars in the road in the early 70's when we banned lead in gasoline. Everybody 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 clips, 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 if we think that young man who was in the movie theatre in Colorado had been a case, a shellcase that a magazine that can hold 100 rounds, 100 rounds. So I just think there are a lot of rational things we can do that will increase the prospect that fewer people will be the victim of gun violence, and we should do them. -And what about illegal guns. Don [unk] asks about illegally obtained weapons and what specifically you're going to do about getting those off the streets? -Well, there are 3 or 4 things. One is that to keep more from going on to the streets, we believe there should be universal background checks. And everyone who purchases a weapon has to have a background check, universal, everyone. It's estimated and there's no hard data that 40 percent of all the weapons purchased today are purchased by avoiding a background check, and that should end, number 1. Number 2, we think that in fact there should be a national gun trafficking legislation. When you go to your local police officer, your local police chief in the town you live in, big or small, and he will tell you the vast majority of the weapons recovered at a crime scene are either stolen weapons and/or they have been illegally-- they've been "lost" or stolen. Well 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 their weapon was stolen, they should say they were stolen, helping the police be able to trace the gun found at a crime scene to get to the criminal by following through with a serial number that from the manufacturer that exist already in the law to determine who had possession of that gun who committed the crime. So there's 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. -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. I wanted 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 and own such weaponry if I choose to do so." What would you say to her? -Well, I think-- 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 flame thrower that the military has. You should be able to go, if you're a billionaire, buy an F-15 loaded with ordnance. You should be able to buy an M1 tank. You should be able to buy a machinegun. You should be able to buy a grenade launcher. And you can't do those things. If you acknowledge that it's within the scope of the government for the public safety under the Second Amendment to limit 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, a folding stock. They have the features of an assault weapon used by the military. If there isn't any question that this constitutionally the federal government as they come 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 a young man up in killing 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 with 10 rounds in it instead of 20 or 30, whatever number is acquired. It's not been made public yet but multiple, multiple rounds. You can also defend yourself and nobody goes out and most sportsman 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 a second or third shot, you shouldn't be out there, excuse me, 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 [unk] asks, "Is there some way we can amend the Second Amendment to bring it into modern times? These assault weapons and oversized ammo clips have only one purpose, rapidfire killing." -You don't have to amend the Second Amendment to be able to eliminate assault weapons and limit the number of shells, bullets-- excuse me, in a magazine, a clip as they call it. -Okay. -And I don't think we should amend the Second Amendment. -Many of our users ask about the example that are set by Chicago and some about Connecticut where they do have some specific gun laws. Jessica [unk] for instance writes, "Chicago has the strictest gun control laws in the country and is among the nation's 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 otherwise what is a desert. In the major cities of New York and Chicago and Philadelphia, most of the guns recovered at a crime scene are those weapons that have come from, you know, 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 is 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 it's more than half of the guns recovered at the scene, none of them are purchased in New York and very few are from the state of New York. They are from Florida, in 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 earlier. 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. As speaking of Chicago, the mayor of Chicago had a great line. He said that 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. It doesn't mean any one public place is immune from someone a mass murderer deciding they're gonna 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 new clip in with 10, 20, 30, 40 bullets in them. Now what I do think is I do think there are ways we can make schools safer. One of the things you gotta 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 that you want your child walking into a circumstance where from everything about the circumstance that says I feel unsafe. You want your child after walking through a metal detector, you want your child to have to walk down classrooms where there in any classroom with armed guards do want. That is not. That's like a siege mentality. Schools should be a place where kids are at ease, 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, 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, whether you were in a position where you have to empty your knapsack or your backpack with your books. That is not an environment I think most people who read Parents Magazine would want their children to have to go through. -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?" -Well, after I said, that's a judgment for every parent to make. For example as a parent raising my children, I wanted to know when they're younger when they're gonna do an overnight at someone's home when they're in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th grade, I wanted to know if they had a swimming pool whether or not it was locked, whether there's a gate. It's not an unreasonable thing for me to ask. When my kids were 14, 15, and 16 at the time when kids started experimenting, I like to know if they're 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 5 grandchildren, they're around all the time, I have 2 shotguns; they're locked in a safe. There's a gun case that is metal, and there's a combination. I can get to it really quickly if I thought my home was being invaded and 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 locked, are they under lock and key or are there in a place where children don't have access to it. You read every day about accidental shootings. Kids don't mean to do it, you know. And I think there should be-- parents who have children at home should also, I think they should have gun safety classes or education. So you know whether there's a bullet in the chamber, 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. And I remember the first time he took me out in the field to go, we were gonna go bird hunting. We ended up not for reasons that are too complicated, but he had to go back to work. But I remember him taking his shotgun, and we're in a field and there was an old three-rail fence in this field. And he took the shotgun. He said I want you to see something, Joey. And he blew with one shot of the 12-gauge shotgun blew the rail of that posted rail fence. Actually it was a boarded fence. He just blew it apart because he wanted me to understand the power, the power of what I had in my hand. And I think it just as 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 more people would become aware of what's going on, the more 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 and 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 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 then point-- we weren't even allowed in playing cops and robbers to point a, you know, a cowboy, you know, a cap gun at someone. You just don't do that. And so there's certain basic things I think any family that owns a weapon, owns a gun should be training their children about, so that they don't accidentally get themselves in trouble. -So you mentioned not legislating around that. I have a question about that 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 I found out there was 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, you know, sorry for what you went through. Look, it's a complicated decision. The Supreme Court decision relating to gun safety, there was in 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 unload and then locked. I'm not sure unload it but he 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 tell you, 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 is accessible to 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 a lock and key, so if your kids are in and out while you were at work or where you're out of the house. So it 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, and in fact keeping the weapon, keeping the gun out of the reach of children or strangers. See it's just common sense, and I think that you're gonna see some initiatives that are gonna come along that are gonna try to find out the limits of that D.C. case, and I think there is room that people will be able to legislate the District of Columbia or in other places to increase the prospects, increase these prospects that a loaded weapon is not within the reach of a stranger or a family member who is not competent to use it. -I'd like to close with a question about the role, what role, if any, do you think violent video games as well as TV and movies play inspiring gun violence? There is a report out just this morning that video games may have played some sort of role for Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter. -Well, there's a lot of speculation about that, and that's why one of things we're pushing very hard that I didn't mention to you is lifting the ban on the ability of the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, the NIH, National Institute of Health, from being able to do studies on gun violence. The NRA and others have actually pushed legislation and attached what they call writers to appropriations bill saying you can't that the federal government, no agency in the federal government can actually study gun violence at all. And 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 these some extremely violent video games to young people actually impacts on their behavior. There are a couple studies, the association of child psychiatrists, it's not the exact title, I don't home in to the title but I think is adolescent psychiatric study indicates that it may impact on behavior, but there's no on attitudes but there's no hard data, and that's why one of the things that president and I are suggesting is there'd be well-funded studies by really first-rate people in 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. -Okay. Thank you very much Mr. Vice President-- -Thank you. -For making the time and thank you to everyone from our Facebook audience for posting all these great questions. -Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me. -Thank you very much.