WASHINGTON — Curbing guns can't ensure an end to mass slayings like December's killings of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Conn., but it will reduce firearm deaths, Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday.
"Nothing we're going to do is going to fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down to 1,000 a year from what it is now," Biden told reporters.
Biden said lawmakers can take steps "that have virtually zero impact on your Second Amendment right to own a weapon for both self-defense and recreation but can save some lives." Doing that, he said, "seems to be a no-brainer."
Biden spoke to reporters after privately urging Senate Democrats to back President Barack Obama's proposals to restrict gun violence, including bans on assault weapons and on high-capacity magazines for ammunition that seem to be getting a contentious reception in Congress. He also wants to require all gun buyers to undergo background checks, an idea that has so far drawn wider acceptance.
"I'm not saying there's an absolute consensus on all these things," he said. Citing the wide-spread horror over the Newtown shootings, he said, "But there is a sea change. A sea change in the attitudes of the American people," who he said "will not understand if we don't act."
The Senate Judiciary Committee held Congress' first 2013 hearing on gun control on Wednesday as lawmakers begin focusing on what restrictions they will try enacting this year. The panel's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has said he hopes his committee will write legislation in February.
Asked earlier Thursday about the prospects for passage of various parts of Obama's plans, No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois cited strong support for broadening the requirement for background checks and doing more to prevent mentally unstable people from obtaining guns. He said the assault weapons ban, which he supports, "is probably the toughest part of this conversation."
Besides opposition from many Republicans, the proposals have prompted hesitancy from some Democrats seeking re-election next year in Republican-leaning states.
"I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and I want to see a balanced approach," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces re-election in 2014. "And I'll take each amendment and bill as it comes."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, predicted that the Republican-run House would never pass an assault weapons ban, no matter what the Democratic-led Senate does.
"Most of us Republicans believe these gun-control approaches don't work, and yet they diminish liberty," he said.
Obama's plan was based on suggestions developed by a task force on gun violence headed by Biden.