Biden warns legislators, ‘country has changed’ on gun violence

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(CNN) -- In remarks Tuesday touting the Obama administration's progress in addressing gun safety, Vice President Joe Biden vowed to revisit gun control legislation that failed in the U.S. Senate earlier this year, and warned legislators that the political climate shifted after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December.

"The one thing that each of us have been saying to our colleagues about these votes is the country has changed," Biden said. "You will pay a price, a political price for not - for not getting engaged and dealing with gun safety."

Before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Biden said the minority of Americans who were opposed to gun control legislation had earned outsized power by turning up in high numbers to vote in congressional elections.

"Now those people who support rational safety measures say this will be a defining issue for me," Biden said in remarks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. "For the first time a clear majority of those who favor rational proposals say it will matter. It will make a difference in who I vote for. That's a fundamental change in the political calculus out there."

Citing polls that showed some moderate Democrats who supported the legislation that was backed by the president and vice president saw their approval ratings back home increase, Biden said that in recent weeks he's heard from legislators who opposed the legislation asking for another chance to vote on the issue.

"I'm optimistic because I've gotten those phone calls from those members of congress, many of whom voted no, saying can you find a way, can you find a way, can you find a way for us to revisit this, and so that's exactly what we're going to be doing," the vice president said.

Weeks after the mass shooting in Newtown, President Barack Obama issued 23 directives aimed at curbing the threat of gun violence. In his remarks, Biden unveiled a progress report that the administration says shows it is on its way to meeting nearly all of the goals the president set in January as part of that effort.

"Although we have yet to succeed in the House and Senate, but we will, he moved forward on what was within his power, what Executive Actions he could take," Biden said. "And today I can report that he announced 23 Executive Actions, 21 of them have been completed or there's been major progress made toward the total completion."

The mostly administrative steps span several federal agencies, and the majority require no approval from Congress.

For instance, the report touts action taken by the Health and Human Services Department to begin the process of reviewing healthcare privacy laws for any barriers preventing from reporting information about people with health problems that might prohibit them from purchasing guns.

The Justice Department proposed a new rule that would allow law enforcement to run full federal background checks on the owners of guns seized as part of an investigation. Officers currently are required to return seized firearms but are prohibited from running background checks on owners.

In an effort to spur new research on the causes of gun violence, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council issued a report this month recommending the pressing research questions.

Obama is calling on Congress to provide $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct gun violence research, an area that has been stalled in recent years due to its political implications.

"Why are we afraid of information?" the vice president asked, challenging critics of scientific research into gun violence. "An informed society should not be afraid of the facts."

On a conference call previewing Biden's remarks, a senior administration official said that while the report represents "significant progress," the administration continues to hold discussions with members of Congress in the hopes of getting legislation passed.

"These unilateral executive actions are in no way a replacement for concrete legislative action, which is why we're engaged in so many conversations with members of Congress, why we're engaged in trying to strengthen the political dynamics of the situation where we can actually have legislation that will tighten and strengthen background checks," the official said.

The vice president took a more emotional approach to the administration's lobbying efforts on Tuesday.

"Ladies and gentleman, since Newtown more people have died at the end of a gun than we have lost in Afghanistan. Pretty astounding," Biden said. "Pretty astounding. And Iraq as a matter of fact, over 5,000. That's no way to run a country. The public knows it."

Of the two Executive Actions the administration has failed to follow through on, the report predicts one will be fulfilled by the end of the year while the other is held up by congressional inaction.

As part of implementing the healthcare law championed by Obama, the report says HHS will finalize regulations later this year detailing how certain existing group health plans must cover mental health benefits, fulfilling the president's directive.

The last unfinished action may be a bit more difficult.

On the same day he rolled out his plans to reduce gun violence, the president also announced his plans to nominate B. Todd Jones to serve as the permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job," Obama said in January. "We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this. Since Congress hasn't confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be - who has been acting [director], and I will be nominating for the post."

Five months after his nomination was announced, Jones sat down for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it has yet to vote on his nomination.