RICHMOND, Va. -- The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting illustrated the importance of strengthening background checks to ensure guns are not sold to people who cannot legally buy them, Vice President Joe Biden said Friday.
Biden spoke briefly to reporters after leading a two-hour roundtable discussion about what to do in the wake of the elementary school shooting last month in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six adults dead. Also participating in the roundtable were Obama administration officials and a few people who served on a Virginia task force that made recommendations after the Tech shooting that left 32 dead – the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
"It's a national tragedy and a window into the vulnerability people feel about their safety and the safety of their children," Biden said of Newtown.
Much of the focus of the discussion, Biden said, was on improving mental health services and making sure records of those declared ineligible to own a gun are transmitted to the national databank for background checks. The group also discussed gun safety and trafficking, he said.
The meeting was held at Virginia Commonwealth University, less than two miles from a state Capitol where lawmakers in recent days have rejected the same gun control measures advocated by President Barack Obama: universal background checks and bans on combat-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who was governor at the time of the Tech shooting, was among the participants in the closed-door meeting.
"We have the scar tissue of tragedy, but also reason to be hopeful," he said, pointing to changes Virginia made after the Tech massacre to become a national leader in reporting ineligible gun buyers to the background check database.
Biden did not discuss banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Kaine told reporters later that he's open to the idea but wants to "make sure the definitions are right" in whatever legislation Congress considers.
He was more definitive in supporting universal background checks. The law already specifies who cannot own a gun, he said, and background checks are the only way to enforce the law.
"To be against background checks is to say you want people to have guns illegally," Kaine said.
Biden said the administration is planning similar roundtable discussions around the country.