VP Biden Talks Gun Violence at Girard College

Commissioner Ramsey, VP Biden, Mayor Nutter

Commissioner Ramsey, Vice President Biden, Mayor Nutter (photo by Tara Murtha)

Vice President Joe Biden was in town yesterday to meet with state and local leaders on the topic of gun violence. The working roundtable, hosted by Girard College, was private, but press was allowed statements at the end.

“There is a sense of urgency in the United States of America,” said Biden, “for the fed government and local government to act.” His point was underscored by the morning’s news: At approximately 8:15 a.m., a gunman opened fire in the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware. Five people were shot and three were killed; early reports indicate one of the two women killed was the gunman’s ex-wife. The killings hit close to home for the vice president as well as for the regional crowd in attendance: Biden lived in the Wilmington area for many years while serving as a senator in Delaware, where his son Beau Biden currently serves as attorney general.

Flanked by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Mayor Michael Nutter, Biden noted that his post-Sandy Hook task force, assembled in December to recommend proposals for stemming gun violence, focused on universal background checks, tracking illegal weapons, mandating time frames where gun owners have to report lost or stolen weapons, and limiting magazine size.

“We also discussed … federal resources… in aiding local law enforcement,” said the vice president, mentioning Camden, N.J., where, due to budgetary limitations, the entire city police force is slated to be dismantled this spring and replaced with a countywide force—even though per capita, Camden has a homicide rate four times that of Philadelphia.

Next, Mayor Nutter spoke about local gun crime. “The number one issue for us in Philadelphia is, of course, illegal handguns,” he said, calling for federal funding for more “boots on the ground.” He added that we have to improve background check services by ensuring the state has complete records.

Commissioner Ramsey said we can no longer accept the status quo: “Obviously Newtown, Connecticut, was a point that really got the attention of everyone in this country as to the kind of gun violence that takes place, but … we have our own version of the Sandy Hooks and Columbine and Aurora, Colorado, almost every day, on the streets of not only Philadelphia but cities across the country, and it has to stop. We have to move forward on this, we have to work with Congress, we have to work with responsible gun owners, we have to work with the America public, to come up with ways to impact the kind of violence taking place on our cities.”

Representative Bob Brady (D-Pa.) called for “good-sense legislation.”

“The record I’m most proud of is with the NRA,” he said, referring to the group’s assessment of his voting record as a gun-control supporter: “Minus zero and F-minus.  I’m proud of that.”

Brady also brought up Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head in January, 2011, in an incident that saw 20 people shot and six killed. “I had an opportunity on a Friday to give her a kiss goodbye… to say, ‘I’ll see you on Monday.’ I didn’t see her on Monday. I saw her on a gurney, being rushed to a hospital on a Saturday. So, I mean, when is it going to stop?”

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) linked progress on the issue gun violence issue to the Girard College building where the roundtable was held. “This school had a terrible history at one point, where African-Americans couldn’t attend,” said Rep. Fattah. “But there were people who rose up and changed that.”

In fact, Girard has a more recent connection to the topic than that. Last year, PW published a letter Girard student Edgar Pagan wrote to President Obama about the ways gun violence impacted his life. The letter was hand-delivered to the president last June.

“If we remain silent in the face of this tragedy,” said Biden, “I think we’re going to be judged really harshly. I really mean that. As a government, as a society.”

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