WASHINGTON — Never much known for restraint, Joe Biden did not hold back during a presidential primary debate in 2007 when a voter asking about gun rights in a recorded video displayed a fearsome-looking semi-automatic rifle and declared, “This is my baby.”
Biden, then a Delaware senator, shook his head. “I tell you what, if that’s his baby, he needs help,” he said. Five years later, that same type of weapon, a Bushmaster AR-15, is at the heart of a renewed national conversation about gun laws because it was used this month by the mass killer in Newtown, Conn. For Biden, now the vice president, the moment offers a second chance as he drafts a legislative response for President Barack Obama that would reinstate his expired assault weapons ban, while also applying lessons from the last time around to make it more, in his mind, effective.
Biden surely knows that gun control is not only a fiercely emotional topic for many Americans but also a tricky area for legislation. The assault weapons ban he helped pass in 1994 was written narrowly enough that it allowed plenty of guns to still be sold. Moreover, a 10-year expiration clause was added as a compromise.
This time, Biden wants to tighten the strictures, but to succeed he needs to get legislation through a GOP House.
But a president intent on pressing Congress to restrict access to high-powered guns could hardly find a more familiar figure to take charge of the effort. Biden, who owns two shotguns, brings decades of experience, and plenty of scar tissue from past battles with the National Rifle Association, to frame recommendations that Obama wants ready by next month.