Biden asks clergy to make moral argument on guns

2013-05-07T00:00:00Z Biden asks clergy to make moral argument on gunsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - Vice President Joe Biden wants pastors, rabbis and nuns to tell their flocks that enacting gun control is the moral thing to do. But another vote may have to wait until Congress wraps up work on an immigration overhaul.

Biden met for 2 1/2 hours Monday with more than a dozen leaders from various faith communities - Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh, to name a few.

Both Biden and the faith leaders encouraged one another not to give up on what has been an arduous and thus far fruitless effort by Biden and President Obama to pass new gun laws in the wake of December's schoolhouse shooting in Connecticut.

Around a large, circular table in a conference room on the White House grounds, Biden waxed optimistic about prospects for passing a bill, according to four participants who spoke to The Associated Press after the meeting.

Biden's chief of staff, Bruce Reed, joined the group, as did a handful of Obama aides who work on faith-based outreach. The meeting closed with a meditation and a prayer for action.

But don't expect a vote any time soon.

"The conversation presumed the vote would happen first on immigration," said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

"That seemed to be the back-and-forth on both sides - that immigration was a key priority right now. When that vote took place, it would be an opportunity to refocus on this."

A far-reaching immigration overhaul is in the early stages of advancing through the Senate. Obama said last week he's optimistic it can be completed this year.

Although momentum on gun control stalled in the Senate last month, Biden has insisted the issue is very much alive. He has been meeting regularly with gun-violence victims and law enforcement to build support for a second go at legislation to expand background checks, improve mental-health care and take other steps to reduce gun violence.

Monday's session reflects an attempt to broaden the coalition calling for new gun laws to include a wide array of religious groups - including evangelicals and conservative faith communities.

Lingering concerns from some participants illustrated the ongoing challenge the administration faces in winning support for the proposals, even though Biden and Obama regularly tout polls suggesting they enjoy broad support.

Some participants raised questions about whether background checks could lead to a national gun registry or whether mental- health provisions would be used to create a list of individuals permanently ban-ned from obtaining guns.

"There were some very powerful evangelical leaders in the room who needed to be reassured," said Pastor Michael McBride of the PICO National Network, a faith-based organizing network.

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