PHILADELPHIA -- A day before the State of the Union address, Vice President Joe Biden joined law enforcement officials and elected Democrats here to press the case for gun-control measures that have become part of the national dialogue since the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
After a private discussion with officials such as U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. -- who changed his position after the shooting to support an assault weapons ban -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Mr. Biden said proposals including requiring background checks of all gun purchasers and limiting high-capacity magazines would allow the nation to answer to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School without infringing on the rights of gun owners.
"If we can save the life of one single person -- one child -- without any impact on an individual's constitutional rights, then why in God's name should we not do that?" he said. "We are going to be judged very harshly if we don't respond."
Surveys of registered voters in Pennsylvania show support for many of the proposals. A Mercyhurst University poll released Monday found majorities of state voters support banning military-style assault rifles and requiring background checks for all gun sales, proposals Mr. Obama has asked Congress to pass.
The president has also called for prohibiting the sale and production of magazines with more than 10 rounds. The survey found most Pennsylvania voters think a ban on "large capacity" ammunition magazines would help prevent mass shootings.
In Philadelphia, Mr. Biden was joined by Democratic members of Congress -- U.S. Reps. Allyson Schwartz, D-Montgomery, Chaka Fattah, D-Philadelphia, and Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia -- as well as prominent law enforcement officials such as Philadelphia police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Police Chief Christine Dunning of Wilmington, Del., attended the event after a fatal shooting took place earlier in the day in a courthouse there.
Absent were Republican members of Congress. But Mr. Biden promised to travel the country to make the administration's case, rebutting a critique he had read asserting that while the vice president could be expected to visit Philadelphia, "he won't go into Cambria County, he won't go into Luzerne County."
"I'm coming," Mr. Biden said. "I'm coming. Because the one thing I want to make clear is this message of rational gun safety is a message that will be embraced by rural communities as well as urban communities simply because it makes sense."
The Mercyhurst poll asked registered Pennsylvania voters which of various proposals they thought would help prevent mass shootings in public places. It found support for a wide variety of measures, though some proposals engendered sharp divides between people who have a gun at home and those who do not.
Fifty-five percent of Pennsylvania voters say banning large-capacity magazines would help prevent such shootings, while 58 percent say the same of banning military-style assault rifles.
On the assault weapons ban, 80 percent of people without a gun in their home said they thought such a law would help prevent shootings, while just 45 percent of people with a gun at home said the same.
Screening proposals won more support, with 84 percent of voters saying improved mental health screening would help, and 81 percent saying the same for requiring background checks for all gun purchasers. Universal background checks were seen by 77 percent of people in households with a gun and 87 percent of those in households without as a way to prevent shootings.
Mr. Casey said he believes there is national consensus after the Newtown shooting that lawmakers should act.
"Hundreds of children would have been killed if he had more time to do that, to do what he was intending to do, which was to kill all of them," Mr. Casey said. "You can't watch that and just say the most powerful country in the world can do nothing to deal with that."
Copyright 2013 - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
McClatchy-Tribune News Service