By Vice President Joe Biden
In recent years, Americans have witnessed a series of senseless tragedies resulting from mass shootings. Perhaps the most shocking of all took place on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., when 20 beautiful babies and six brave teachers and administrators were massacred at an elementary school.
But every community, Houston included, suffers from the carnage of gun violence. In the aftermath of Newtown, President Barack Obama asked me to help him identify common-sense solutions to keep guns out of the wrong hands. As the National Rifle Association slogan goes, guns don't kill people, people kill people. So why not close giant loopholes in our laws that allow criminals and other potentially dangerous individuals to arm themselves?
In one of the many meetings I held as I prepared those recommendations, I met a young man named Colin Goddard who had survived the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. To this day, Colin has several bullets in his body. "I'm not here because of what happened to me," he explained. "I'm here because what happened to me keeps happening to other people. And we need to do something about it."
To Colin and to the victims and families affected by every senseless death caused by a gun in the hands of someone who shouldn't have one, I say this: We will do something about it.
We reached a consensus in this country back in 1993 when we enacted the Brady Bill that a background check is a reasonable requirement to impose on an individual who walks into a gun store to purchase a firearm. These checks take just a few minutes. All we are seeking to do now is to expand that requirement to people who shop for guns at other venues such as gun shows, through classified ads and over the Internet.
Two U.S. senators with sterling NRA records, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have written legislation that would do just that. We fell short on our first effort to pass Manchin-Toomey in the Senate, but we will not be deterred by one setback. We have an obligation to make sure that the voices of victims, not the voice of the NRA, ring the loudest in this debate.
For too long, members of Congress have been afraid to vote against the wishes of the NRA, even when the vast majority of their constituents support what the NRA opposes. That fear has become such an article of faith that even in the face of evidence to the contrary, a number of senators voted against basic background checks, against a federal gun trafficking statute and against other common-sense measures because they feared a backlash.
Today, those very senators are discovering that the political landscape really did change. They are learning that Newtown really did shock the conscience of the nation and that inaction will not be tolerated by Democrats, Republicans or independents.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., for example, voted against the background check bill even after he wrote a letter to a mother of a gun violence victim professing his support for tougher screening. In the weeks since, he has seen his approval plummet so dramatically that he took to Facebook to describe his popularity as being "just below pond scum." And Sen. Flake admitted something important: "I would assume that my poll numbers have indeed taken a southerly turn since my vote" against the Senate background check proposal, he wrote. "It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it."
On the other hand, red-state Democrats like U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana learned that when they stood up to vote in favor of background checks, their constituents stood firmly behind them. According to a recent poll, Louisiana voters say they are more inclined to support Sen. Landrieu in the aftermath of her vote. North Carolinians said the same of Sen. Hagan. This was not what conventional wisdom predicted a few weeks ago. But it is reality today.
Taken together, these polling numbers have turned the traditional political calculus on its head. Whether senators are rewarded for bucking the NRA or punished for following its orders, the message is clear: If you don't support gun safety, your voters won't support you.
In the end, I believe we will prevail. And those who wrote off gun safety legislation last month will come to realize that moment wasn't the end at all. It was the turning point.