Vice President Joe Biden speaks to Jim Gardner on gun control, state of politics

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Saturday, January 9, 2016
VIDEO: Jim Gardner 1-on-1 with VP Biden
Action News anchor Jim Gardner speaks to Vice President Joe Biden on topics of gun control and the state of US politics.

Vice President Joe Biden still despairs over the fact that he could not push gun control through the Republican Congress.

I talked one-on-one with Biden Wednesday in Washington and he agreed that gun control became a top priority after December 2012.

December 14th was the day that Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Biden was charged with turning unspeakable tragedy into a legislative accomplishment.

It didn't turn out that way.

"If my memory serves me correctly, you were the point person on getting gun control legislation through the Congress in the wake of Sandy Hook," I said.

"I was," Biden remarked.

"And that effort failed," I said.

"Yes," Biden said.

"Would you have done, now looking back, anything differently?" I asked.

"Yes. I would spend less time emphasizing assault weapons which sort of took the eye off the ball here and I'm the guy who wrote the first assault weapons ban that was in law until the middle of the Bush administration and focus more on reminding people of the core concerns here are both smart gun technology, access to guns through vehicles other than licensed dealers, etc. But at the end of the day, we just couldn't bring along, 90% of the Republicans went the other way," Biden said.

The main thrust of President Obama's controversial executive actions is background checks - expanding the definition of licensed gun dealers so many more gun buyers will be subject to background checks.

Jim Gardner spoke Wednesday to Vice President Biden in Washington.

But Vice President Biden had to admit to me that the President's plan will leave street gun violence largely untouched.

I told the Vice President, "I think it's fair to say that most people who use guns to kill other people in cities like Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington don't buy them from license gun dealers."

"That's true, Jim," Biden said.

"They get them on street corners and back alleys. The serial numbers are erased. So how does yesterday's plan apply to that part of the problem?" I asked.

"It doesn't very much, but it does apply to the part of the problem where you have close to 60,000 people last year blew their own brains out by purchasing a gun; they don't go to that corner, they go buy a gun. It does apply to the 30,000 to 40,000 people who are in a domestic violence dispute, people who are the victims of a mass shooting which is the smallest percentage of all of this. So it doesn't solve the whole problem, Jim.

All we're trying to do is say that everyone acknowledges, including the NRA, that if you a purchase a gun, you should to the degree that we can control it, you should have a background check.

I've gone into high schools in Delaware and in Philly, and you can ask in some high schools, 'Can you go buy a gun? Where?' [They respond,] 'I can tell you where. The van coming around.' It's not going to stop that."

Biden readily acknowledges that the President's executive actions are modest in scope, but the fact is they must be funded by Congress, a Congress that is opposed to gun control.

So even these limited measures may be out of reach.

I asked Biden if the gun control issue was the most frustrating, disappointing work related issue for him in the last seven years.

"One of them. One of them," Biden replied.

Another might be how politics has evolved in this country.

Before he became number two in the executive branch, Biden was an old school legislator who had friends on both sides of the isle.

He did battle with them and then had dinner with them.

He told me friendship and respect don't cross the aisle anymore.

"Jim, you covered me a long time. You can't find many Republicans or any Republicans who will tell you I've never been straight with them. I've gotten on with many Republicans and been able to do work together because I've learned never to question their motive. What happened in politics today has become so intensely personal and mean," Biden said.

"What is it about the Congress today, what is it about government service today that inhibits or prohibits opponents from respecting each other?" I asked.

"Money and politics today," Biden responded. "It is a gigantic, overwhelming corrupting influence - not that people are being bought, they're not. Secondly, if you notice today, we talk about each other in terms of being enemies. Enemies? Since when is a Republican my enemy or a Democrat my enemy?"

"The word opponent does not mean enemy," I said.

Biden replied, "It doesn't. And the third thing is that because of the nature of how you have to spend so much time raising money, we don't do things together anymore. Democrats, Republicans Senators, without staff, we used to go over and eat together all the time. Ask next time you're interviewing anyone in the House or Senate, how many times they've eaten lunch with a Democratic or Republican colleague. Do they travel with them when they go overseas? It's really gotten so impersonal that it's allowed for personal attacks to be accepted as 'well, that's just the nature of politics," Biden said.

Despite his dismay about the current political culture, Biden seems at peace with himself, and the knowledge that he won't be president.

He seems immensely proud of his service, but prouder still of family, eager to tell me about his nephew, off to Penn next year, and his granddaughter, graduating from Penn this year.

But of course, everything, his work, his world, is still coping with, adapting to the death of his beloved Beau.

It was good to spend a little time with Joe Biden, and regardless of one's political preference, he still has his A game.

Action News anchor Jim Gardner sits down for an interview with Vice President Joe Biden.