Skip to main content

On gun control, look to Biden

By Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, Special to CNN
updated 10:44 AM EST, Wed December 19, 2012
Rebecca Puckwalter-Poza says Vice President Joe Biden was a leader on gun control in the Senate.
Rebecca Puckwalter-Poza says Vice President Joe Biden was a leader on gun control in the Senate.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza: Obama has apparently tapped Biden as gun control point man
  • She says he was leader in Senate on issue, shepherding 1994 gun control legislation
  • It banned manufacture of many semi-automatic guns,criminalized high-capacity magazines
  • Writer: Biden worked across aisle; he's adroit, determined statesman, right man for job

Editor's note: Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza served as deputy national press secretary of the Democratic National Committee during the 2008 election.

(CNN) -- President Obama's poignant speech at Sunday's interfaith vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, set the tone for our mourning. Now, America's path forward will be decided out of the spotlight. The question of whether the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School will linger only in memory or be memorialized by an enduring shift in gun policy can only be answered by the legislature.

Incoming Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Diane Feinstein has announced she will introduce an enhanced assault weapons ban on the first day of the new Congress, but the fate of that legislation is in the hands of Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden will reportedly lead the administration's political response.

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza
Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

No politician could be better suited to the challenge of passing federal gun control legislation than Biden. Over the past four decades, Biden has been one of the most consistent and effective advocates of gun control and violence prevention legislation. In 1994, Biden shepherded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act through the Senate, a near miracle six years in the making.

After Biden wrote the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1988, Republicans quickly filibustered, blocking the bill for four years. He steered "the Biden crime bill" through the lengthy filibuster by negotiating with Republicans and making revisions. "Every single line in that bill was written with every single major Republican a part of it," Biden said in a September 12, 1994, interview on the Charlie Rose show.

The Clinton administration and then-Sen. Biden repeatedly refused to make concessions that would have jeopardized the substance of the act, even after debate over the amendment we know as the federal assault weapons ban imperiled the entire bill. Instead of backing down, Biden took on Republican Sens. Phil Gramm and Orrin Hatch and faced opponents attacking the bill as taxpayer-funded "dance lessons and midnight basketball for robbers and rapists."

France: Where fear and taboo control guns more than laws

Biden did not budge: "Make no mistake, this is about guns, guns, guns." The crime bill passed the Senate in November 1993.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



When the bill foundered in the House, Biden persevered. It reached President Clinton's desk thanks to an unexpected, eleventh-hour push from a "Lost Battalion of Republicans" led by Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware. He'd been swayed during a series of meetings with the House Speaker and other House Republicans, at which Biden was the only Senator in attendance.

The resulting legislation banned the manufacture of 19 types of semi-automatic firearms and criminalized the possession of high-capacity magazines. The process taught a critical lesson: When otherwise "pro-gun'" lawmakers have to choose between a crime bill including a gun ban and inaction, it is more than possible for them to vote to protect Americans. Unfortunately, the assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Since then, numerous lawmakers, including Joe Biden, have tried and failed to get the ban renewed.

Congress now has a rare opportunity to take new action on gun control. After Newtown, proponents of stricter gun legislation are backed by public opinion and bolstered by a surge of political support. The "pro-gun" wing of the GOP and the National Rifle Association remain silent even as their supporters are defecting publicly.

Democratic Sens. Harry Reid and Joe Manchin, whose voting record earned them the NRA's "top rating," have backed off their "pro-gun" positions and declared that "everything must be on the table" for legislative debate. The 31 pro-gun senators have not spoken since Friday's tragedy, signaling the possibility that some of them might be changing their minds on guns, too.

Lawmakers are essentially being asked to consider an updated version of the 1994 assault weapons ban. On Sunday, Feinstein promised the legislation "will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession" of assault weapons and ban high-capacity magazines as well as "clips of more than ten bullets."

Could laws suppress U.S. gun culture?
Could laws suppress U.S. gun culture?
Newtown resident: "We're still mourning"
How much school security is enough
Lessons from past national tragedies

Biden will likely support a new ban on assault weapons and push for improvements. His 2007 Crime Control and Prevention Act would not only have renewed the ban but required background checks for all gun purchases, closing the "gun show loophole.'" Biden has also called on Congress to address the relationship of mental illness to violence in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Was your gun banned?

The president cautioned Americans Sunday, saying "no single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this."

In his first term, however, Obama practiced a policy of appeasement, failing to block the expansion of gun rights or promote gun control. To ensure Congress passes tough, comprehensive gun control laws rather than settling for a watered-down version, as with health care, Obama must let Biden lead.

Why? Biden has distinguished himself as an adroit and effective statesman in both the legislative and the executive branches. The former six-term senator has a deft touch with moderate and conservative counterparts: in 2008, he eulogized Strom Thurmond. As vice president, he has spearheaded the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Moreover, Biden has a particular passion for protecting students and educators. His wife, Jill Biden, has been teaching for more than 30 years.

The deaths of 20 first-graders and six adults compel all Americans as sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, to consult their moral compasses. Legislators face a greater responsibility: a moral imperative to pass any legislation that could possibly prevent a future Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek or Blacksburg.

Opinion: Gun violence is a national security issue

As Obama ministers to the American people and offers words of comfort, Biden must move lawmakers to action. In 1994, Biden warned his colleagues, "we simply can't let the gun lobby deny to the American people the vital benefits in this bill." Biden must once more appeal to Congress to enact gun control. If anyone can succeed in those chambers, it's Joe Biden.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:46 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT