Amid a national debate on gun control Vice President Biden is viewed as the Democratic party’s point-man on strengthening the limits of firearm ownership.
But in an online town-hall discussion today, Biden was flooded with inquiries from those less inclined to agree with his party’s push to ban high capacity magazines and assault weapons. “Parents” magazine hosted the event, taking submitted questions from readers.
One participant asked the vice president how he reconciled a ban on assault weapons with those already in the hands of criminals.
“How can say this politely?” Biden responded. “The Constitution does allow the government to conclude that there are certain types of weapons that no one can legally known. Now, if that were not the case, then you should be able to go buy a flame-thrower that the military has. You should be able to go, if you’re a billionaire, buy an F-15 [jet fighter] loaded with ordnance. You should be able to buy an M1 tank. You should be able to buy a machine gun. You should be able to buy a grenade launcher. And you can’t do those things.”
The vice president said if one accepts those limitations, the question becomes balancing the right to weapons for self defense, sporting, and those outlawed.
Biden, the owner of two shotguns, has often used his firearm ownership in debates of the practicality of assault weapons. In a particularly offbeat moment today, he explained an imaginary scenario where trouble would come to his Delaware home:
“I said, ‘Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house.”
Continuing the trope, Biden stated a shotgun would be easier to fend off an intruder than the civilian variant of an M-16 assault rifle.
“You don’t need an AR-15,” he said. “It’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use, and in fact you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself,” he said.
“Buy a shotgun,” he concluded.
Another reader questioned how a “ban on guns” would work when prohibition of narcotics failed to keep them off the streets.
Biden responded curtly.
“There is no ban on guns,” he said. “No one’s banning the gun. No one’s taking my shotguns. I have two shotguns at home. They’re in a — in a cabinet. They’re locked. There is a ammunition there as well. No one is going to come and take my gun. No one’s going to take anyone’s gun. We’re talking about a background check.”
Continuing with added sarcasm, he asked whether the drug analogy even made sense:
“Are you suggesting [...] we just legalize all drugs? Is that what you’re suggesting? That would go real well in Parents magazine.” he said. “Let’s talk about everybody being able to — no matter what your age, go out and be able to purchase cocaine. What do you think about that idea? Look, these comparisons are not appropriate, quite frankly.”
The vice president said the debate wasn’t a matter of gun control but “gun safety.” Addressing the issue of weapons already in the hands of owners that would become banned, Biden likened the situation to cars burning leaded gasoline.
“In the early ’70s when we banned leaded gasoline. Everybody said, why would you do that? You still have all these cars out there, all these cars out there that use leaded gasoline and have to use leaded gasoline for the engines to function. The answer was, over time — over time, they will be off the market.”
Biden headed President Obama’s gun violence research commission in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school mass shooting in December. On Thursday he will travel to that state to participate in a gun violence conference 12 miles from where a gunman took the lives of 20 first graders and six adults using an assault weapon.
This report has been updated.