WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he is "much less concerned" with the dangers posed by assault weapons than he is about high-capacity gun magazines, possibly offering an early window into the Obama administration's priorities in the upcoming gun control debate on Capitol Hill.
"More people out there get shot with a Glock that has cartridges in a [high-capacity magazines]," said Biden, chair of a White House task force to develop violence prevention proposals, during an online Google+ chat.
"I'm much less concerned, quite frankly, with what you'd call an 'assault weapon' than I am with magazines, and the number of rounds that can be held in a magazine." A Glock is a type of semi-automatic pistol.
Biden acknowledged that a proliferation of military-style assault weapons posed a danger especially to law enforcement officers who are "outgunned" by criminals with these guns. But it was clear that the vice president, who called himself "a sportsman" with two shotguns, was more concerned with the size of gun magazines.
An assault weapons ban and a high-capacity magazine ban were both part of a sweeping set of proposals announced by President Barack Obama last week, aimed at preventing gun violence. Until now, neither Biden nor Obama had indicated which elements of the proposal might be a higher priority.
Another clear priority for Biden was not to needlessly alienate gun owners or the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest pro-gun lobby. Biden mentioned his meeting earlier this month with the NRA a number of times, and when a caller asked him about how the gun debate became so polarized, he said "both political parties sometimes take absolutist positions, and yet the vast majority of the American people agree on basic issues of public safety and gun safety."
Biden's words contrasted with language Obama used Saturday in his weekly radio address, when he implied that for some lawmakers, "an 'A' grade for the gun lobby is more important than keeping kids safe."
Also during the chat, Biden replaced the common term "gun control." "I don't use the term gun control," he said, "I say gun safety."
This may also be a recent decision -- when he spoke on Saturday, Obama didn't mention the term "gun safety." The small, but symbolic shift was one of a number of efforts throughout the Biden event to emphasize broad public consensus over safety measures.
The timing of Biden's comments was noteworthy, coming the same day as a top Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein of California, introduced legislation to renew and expand the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.
Feinstein's bill would ban the manufacture and sale of more than 150 types of military-style assault weapons, as well as limit magazines with more than 10 rounds, and require owners to register existing assault weapons. Speaking at a press conference, Feinstein said she acknowledged that passing her ambitious bill through Congress would be "an uphill climb." There is broad consensus on Capitol Hill that an assault weapons ban would not pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
On Friday, Biden will travel to Richmond, Va., to participate in a roundtable discussion about gun safety with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), members of the administration and gun violence experts.
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Funds For First Responders
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Invest In School Safety Strategies
The Obama administration, through executive action, encourages school districts to use Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase school safety equipment, develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments and train "crisis intervention teams" of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community while responding and assisting students in crisis.
Money For Safer & Nurturing School Climates
The Obama administration cites that with technical assistance from the Department of Education, 18,000 schools have already put evidence-based strategies to improve school climate into action. Through executive action, the administration proposes a new $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train teachers and staff to implement these strategies.
Resources For Youth Who Witness Violence
To help schools break the cycle of violence, the administration will urge Congress to provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs and other school-based violence prevention initiatives.
Incentives For Schools To Hire Resource Officers
Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments that hire officers through COPS Hiring Grants by providing a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.
Close Background Check Loopholes
The Department of Justice will invest $20 million in FY2013 to give states stronger incentives to share information with the background check system. President Obama signed executive action requiring federal agencies to make crucial records available to the background check system and also to ensure that such records are frequently updated.
Boost Gun Owner Accountability & Responsibility
President Obama signed an executive action reaffirming his respect for the Second Amendment, but acknowledging that the right to bear arms comes with a responsibility to safely store guns to prevent them from being accidentally or intentionally used to harm others.
Serious Punishment For Gun Trafficking
Today, guns can be purchased easily from unlicensed dealers or from "straw purchasers" who pass the required background check, but give the guns to criminals. The Obama administration will include an explicit law against straw purchasing and others who traffic guns, including prosecutions for paperwork violations.
15,000 Cops On The Street
The Obama administration recognizes that it is crucial to keep more officers within communities and neighborhoods in order to prevent gun violence. The president calls on Congress to put forth a $4 billion proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the streets across the country.
Assault Weapons Ban
The federal assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004 was a first step, but President Obama acknowledged that manufacturers were able to circumvent the prohibition with cosmetic modifications to their weapons. Obama is pressing Congress to introduce legislation reinstating and expanding the ban to include all assault weapons.
High-Capacity Magazine Ban
President Obama will urge Congress to reinstate the prohibition on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Shooters at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis. and Newtown, Conn. all used magazines that had a capacity of more than 10 rounds, which come standard with many handguns and rifles.
Remove ATF Restrictions
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is required to authorize the importation of dangerous antique weapons that are at least 50 years old. Obama will press Congress to remove restrictions and enable the ATF to ensure that incoming weapons are actually acquired as collectibles and not for putting the weapons in the wrong hands.
Broader Access To Reports On Lost & Stolen Guns
Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice plans to publish an annual report on lost and stolen guns to ensure data collected by the ATF is available.
Protect Doctors Who Talk About Guns
Some have erroneously claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns and gun safety. According to Obama's executive action, the administration will issue guidance clarifying this misconception and reiterating the importance of protecting doctors who have discussions on safe storage of firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses, have young children or have a mentally ill family member at home.
Promote Responsible Gun Ownership
As declared by Obama's executive action, the administration will encourage gun owners to take responsibility for keeping their guns safe through a national campaign promoting common-sense gun safety measures.
Enhance Gun Tracing Data
Law enforcement can trace a gun's path from it's manufacturer, the dealer who sold it and its first purchaser. However, not all federal law enforcement agencies require a trace on guns they recover and keep in custody. President Obama signed executive action requiring a trace on <em>all</em> firearms.
Promote Safe Gun Safety Technology
The president is directing the attorney general through executive action to work with technology experts to review emerging gun safety technology that helps guard against unauthorized access and use.
$150 Million For In-School Resources
The Obama administration is urging Congress to take up a Comprehensive School Safety program that will offer $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire resource officers, school psychologists, social workers and counselors. The Department of Justice will also develop a model for schools that use resource officers, including age-appropriate methods for working with students.
Change School Discipline Practices
Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate or become involved in the juvenile justice system. The Obama administration believes effective school discipline policies are critical to addressing school and community crime and violence issues. Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Education will collect and execute best practices on school discipline policies and help schools implement these policies.
Mental Health Treatment For Youth
Through partnerships such as the newly proposed Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), President Obama is urging Congress to take up a comprehensive plan to reach 750,000 young people through programs for early detection of mental illness and swift treatment. Project AWARE includes $15 million for training teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness.
Clarify Mental Health Coverage In Private Insurance Plans
By executive action, Obama announced a plan to finalize regulations that would require group health plans offering mental health care to cover such services at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover mental health and substance abuse services.
Mental Health Coverage For Medicaid Recipients
There is some evidence that Medicaid plans do not always meeting mental health parity requirements. In an executive action, the Obama administration issued a letter to state health officials insisting that these plans must comply with mental health parity requirements.