Vice President Joseph Biden addresses the 81st Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) at Capital Hilton Hotel January 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
Vice President Biden said Thursday that public revulsion at last month's school shooting should push lawmakers to address the "epidemic" of gun violence, and he asked the nation's mayors to help.
"We have to do something," Biden told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington. "We have to act."
The Dec. 14 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has "affected the public psyche in a way I've never seen before," the vice president said.
While saying it will be tough to get meaningful measures through Congress -- including a Republican-run House -- Biden told the mayors "this time will not be like the times that have come before it" because of Newtown. The shooting of children is "a call to action," the vice president said.
Biden spoke a day after President Obama unveiled the most sweeping gun control plan in decades, including proposals for a renewed assault weapons ban, universal background checks on all gun buyers and restrictions on the capacities of ammunition magazines.
Obama also signed 23 executive orders on Wednesday, including directives for more sharing of federal data for background checks, improving data bases, and government research into the causes of gun violence.
His plan also addresses improved school safety and mental health services.
Biden developed most of the plan after a series of meetings with more than 200 organizations involved in the gun violence issue, from gun control advocates to mental health experts to violent video game makers to gun rights supporters.
In a 55-minute speech to the nation's mayors, Biden said he and Obama followed four principles, starting with respect for the Second Amendment to own firearms. The vice president said he has two hunting guns himself, including a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge.
A second principle is that people who are unstable or dangerous should not have guns, Biden said. A third is what the vice president called "common sense judgments about keeping dangerous weapons off our streets."
Biden said he and Obama also believe "this isn't just about guns," and involves mental health, violent films and video games, and a general coarsening of American culture.
"We can't wait any longer to take action," Biden said. "The time has come."
The National Rifle Association has vowed to fight Obama's gun control plan. The nation's largest gun lobby says the emphasis should be on school safety -- including armed guards at all schools -- mental health, and stepped-up prosecution of existing laws.
"Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation," the NRA said in a statement. "Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."
Biden said he has no objections to armed guards in schools, but only if they are trained and the schools want them. "We don't want rent-a-cops in our schools who are not trained," he said.
In introducing Biden, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter endorsed the administration's gun control efforts. Nutter said America's mayors see the "carnage" caused by guns every day, and that "assault weapons have no place on American streets."