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Wed March 20, 2013
Interview With Vice President Joe Biden
The Obama administration is still fighting for a ban on assault weapons to be included in a larger bill in Congress, Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview with NPR.
After the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., last December, President Obama appointed Biden to lead a task force that would recommend changes to the nation's gun laws. Besides proposing a ban on assault weapons, the group also suggested limiting high-capacity magazines, such as those used in the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.
In a wide-ranging interview on the guns issue with NPR's Melissa Block, Biden said several times that a "vast majority" of Americans supported a ban on military-style weapons.
What follows is the full transcript of the interview. (If you would like to listen to the piece that aired Wednesday on All Things Considered, click here.)
Melissa Block: Vice President Biden, welcome to the program.
Vice President Joe Biden: It's a delight to be here with you.
Block: Let's start with the assault weapons ban that does appear to be dying in the Senate. Is the White House still pushing to have that passed? Do you assume that it's now not going to happen?
Biden: I am still pushing that it pass. We are still pushing that it pass. The same thing was told to me when the first assault weapons ban in 1994 was attached to the Biden Crime bill; that it couldn't possibly pass. It was declared dead several times. I believe that the vast majority of the American people agree with us. The vast majority of gun owners agree with us. That military-style assault weapons are – these are weapons of war. They don't belong in the street, and the recent decision declaring the right of someone to own a weapon in their home for self-protection, Justice [Antonin] Scalia acknowledged that you can constitutionally banned certain type of weapons. And, so, I haven't given up on this.
Block: You are going to push for it. The Majority Leader Harry Reid says he doesn't even have 40 votes for the assault weapons ban.
Biden: Look, last time we passed it we only had seven Republican votes in 1994.
Block: But he doesn't have the Democrats.
Biden: Well, again. I have never found that it makes any sense to support something and declare that there is no possibility of it passing. There is a lot happening. Attitudes are changing, and I think the president and I are going to continue to push and we haven't given up on it.
Block: If you can't get the assault weapons ban through the Senate, does that represent a failure on the administration's part, and on your part, as someone who has really spearheaded this effort?
Biden: Well, look, obviously you and others informed in the media will make that judgment. But, my experience, having been the only guy that did this once before, along with [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein and others, is that this doesn't necessarily happen in one fell swoop. For example, when the assault weapons ban was part of the so-called Biden Crime Bill that had 100,000 [INAUDIBLE] in it first was taken out, then we got it back in, then we had the background check bill -– the Brady Bill -– in it, and we were able to pull it out and get that passed separately – get the rest of this passed. So, I don't see this as, there's an automatic end point. That, OK, there's one vote, this is it, fails, now we move on. We are going to continue to push for logical, gun safety regulations. Eventually, the will of the people is going to prevail and we're going to keep at it.
Block: You said earlier that you think the vast majority of the people agree with your position on this. The latest numbers I saw from the Pew poll show 83 percent support background checks on private gun sales. But if you look at the assault weapons ban its much narrower. It's 56 percent. A very slim majority.
Biden: That is a pretty good majority.
Block: But not the vast majority.
Biden: No but 56 percent of the people. Other polls show it higher. Other polls show it higher. That is the lowest number I've heard. Most polls show a majority of NRA members initially come out saying they support it. Now it's closer. Look there are multiple pieces of the gun-safety initiative we are pushing, and we believe that we will get them now or we'll get them all, eventually.
Block: If it happens, that the only thing that comes through the Senate right now is an expanded background check provision – universal background checks – is that acceptable?
Biden: That would be gigantic. That would be gigantic. Let me put it in perspective: When the Brady legislation passed back in '94 and the NRA and a significant portion of the opposition were absolutely opposed to it. They called it registration. They came up with all these scare tactics about how this was going to be terrible. Guess what? It worked. They said felons will never go and get a background check to buy a gun. Two million felons have tried to buy a gun, and because of the background check have been denied. And even with that there is probably a 40 percent loophole that exists in the law.
Block: You're talking about people who buy guns through gun shows?
Biden: People who buy guns through gun shows and other means that do not require a background check. Now, at the time, no one anticipated that all of the sudden these gun shows would proliferate and the fact that it didn't include them. We had to compromise to get it done; to get this passed. And the bottom line is that it works. It makes a big difference. And now strengthening the background check – when you explain to people you have a large number of the American people, by most surveys, supporting background checks and they think they are universal already. Most Americans think there's already universal background checks. They don't understand why there wouldn't be a background check to purchase a weapon.
Block: Do you think it would be any easier to get a ban on large capacity magazines through Congress than it appears to be to get the assault weapons ban through?
Biden: Probably. As you know, the original bill in '94 had a separate ban on the size of magazines. And it was in place until 2004. And there is evidence that it saved lives. It reduced the number of people who were killed. Look now. In Newtown [Conn.], those 20 beautiful babies and six [INAUDIBLE] serious people trying to help them – administrators and teachers all dead, today – the police responded in two and one-half minutes. Two and one-half minutes. This guy had 30 round clips in it. He had to use one clip to break through the door, to shoot the locks on the doors; he went into one room and another room, etc. They were there in two and half minutes. If that had only been only 10 rounds, who knows if one or two of five or seven of those people would be alive today.
Block: Or he could have just loaded another magazine.
Biden: That is not true. Because he reloaded with 30 round clips and this is as far as he got. Just do the math. If he had to reload three times as many times ...
Look what happened to [former Rep.] Gabby Giffords. That guy had multiple rounds. As he was trying to reload the second time, he fumbled. That is when they knocked his arm. And he was overcome. If it had been 10 rounds the first time around, and the second time he put another 10 rounds in, there would be people alive today.
If I could add one thing: It in no way violates anyone's constitutional right. What is the downside of saying, you can have clips with only 10 rounds in it? What does that violate? Hunting? Sportsmanship? If you need more than 10 rounds to hunt, and some argue they hunt with that many rounds, you shouldn't be hunting. If you can't get the deer in 3 shots, you shouldn't be hunting. You are an embarrassment.
Block: Gun owners will say that all of these lines are arbitrary? Why 10 rounds? Why not seven?
Biden: Sure they are arbitrary. Why age 18 to vote? Because society has concluded that the capacity to keep yourself from doing damage and or allowing other to do damage – you don't let 9 year old drive – well that is arbitrary. There's some 9 year olds might be able to drive better then some 16 year olds. Limiting it to 10 rounds makes a difference in how many shots you can let off before someone can intervene.
Block: If you look at the numbers the vast majority of deaths in this country are not from assault weapons, they are from handguns. Are you really fixing the main problem?
Biden: No, you are not fixing the problem. That is like saying, does it make any sense to ban cigarette smoking while you still have global warming going on? C'mon. Does that fix the environmental problem? No. But it saves some people's lives. Do you say the fact that we took lead out of gasoline? Does that solve the problem? No. It doesn't. We still have too many emissions going into the air. But it helps. I find that a bizarre argument; if it doesn't solve the whole problem but, guess what? The fact is that it does impact. The people I go to, to look to, when we talk about assault weapons and magazines; talk to the police officers. They are tired of being outgunned. They are tired of being outgunned.
Block: Well when you say it does save people's lives there has to be some sort of calculus here, right? There has be to be some point where you say, is the number of lives that we save, does that outweigh the burdens and restrictions we put on millions of Americans. How do you draw that conclusion?
Biden: Tell me what the burden is that you have to buy three clips with 10 rounds versus one clip with 30. The cost is the same. What is the burden? What am I doing to infringe on your constitutional right? You can think of a thousand burdens we put on people that, in fact, are [INAUDIBLE] impact positively on society. It is one thing if you can tell me the burden is onerous. First of all, the vast majority of gun owners are not running around with clips that hold 30 rounds. There is no good data. Here's part of the problem. Part of the problem is when the authorization had to be renewed for much of this in 2004, restrictions were placed on the ability of the government even to keep data.
Block: What's the problem with having a gun registry? A national, mandatory gun registry? We license our cars, why shouldn't we have to license and register our guns?
Biden: Because there is a – this is where you start to cross a cultural line. The idea that you register your guns – it may make logical sense to say this, but there isn't a constitutional right to own an automobile. There is a Second Amendment constitutional right to own a weapon: The right to have and bear arms. When you go to registration, it raises all the black helicopter crowd notion that what this is all about is identifying who has a gun so that one day the government can get up and go to the house and arrest everyone who has a gun, and they'll cite Nazi Germany and all that.
You don't need to register guns to have logical gun safety laws. This is not - there is a healthy gun culture in this country with regard to hunters. They husband their guns and their weapons; they lock them up, they use them responsibly, they pass them down to their children, like my dad. This is about keeping guns out of the hands of people who, constitutionally, the government is able to prohibit from owning those guns.
Block: Mr. Vice President, thank you for your time.
Biden: Thank you.