Published February 21. 2013 10:00AM Updated February 22. 2013 6:46PM
Danbury — Vice President Joe Biden told those gathered for a gun violence prevention conference in Danbury on Thursday, "We better get this done."
"I can imagine how we will be judged as a society if we do nothing," Biden said.
In addition to changes to gun laws, the vice president said funding needs to be found for mental health and school security.
More than 300 people gathered at Western Connecticut State University for the conference and to listen to Biden, who is in charge of the Obama administration's efforts to draft new federal legislation in the wake of the school shootings that killed 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
The people of Newtown have continued to make their voices heard and participate in conferences where they have had to relive the tragedy, Biden said. The least politicians can do is show some political courage, he said.
Biden said the country needs universal background checks for all weapons and that all states must enter criminal and mental health information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The vice president said there needs to be a limit on high-capacity gun magazines. There was no reason for the shooter in the Aurora movie theater to have 100 rounds, he said.
The ban on assault-style weapons should be re-enacted and strengthened, he said, and there must be a federal gun trafficking law so that prosecutors can go after traffickers.
To those who say assault-style weapons are needed for protection, Biden said, "They are wrong." To those who say it isn't about guns, he said, "They are wrong, it is."
"Our culture isn't killing people," he said. It's high-capacity magazines, and people not going through background checks, he said.
Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra agreed with Biden. "It is time to act," she said.
"Don't let the tragedy in Newtown be another event" in a long list of mass shootings, she said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outlined his proposed changes to gun laws at the conference, which also was attended by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Connecticut Democrats; U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire; and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
At the federal level, more resources are needed for police officers, school resource officers and mental health professionals, Biden said.
Federal law also needs to be changed so that the government may study gun violence, he said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can't even keep records on gun violence, Biden said.
"We can't remain silent," he said. "We must speak for the 20 children who died."
He said he believes those who do not act will pay a political price.
Earlier, Blumenthal said he agreed with Malloy that the tragedy in Newtown has changed people.
"Preventing gun violence was thought to be untouchable two months ago," Blumenthal. But the "unspeakable horror" in Newtown has gathered "unstoppable momentum," he said.
Since Newtown, 1,900 other victims have died from gun violence, he said. No state can deal with it alone, he said.
At the federal level, Blumenthal said, he wants to see a ban on high-capacity magazines, a law that prevents illegal trafficking of guns, an expanded assault-style weapons ban and background check databases strengthened.
States are not independent islands when it comes to gun violence, he said.
"A federal agenda is necessary, and you are a part of it," he said.
The American people and political leadership both have to work hard to make this happen, he said.
Murphy said having Biden, Malloy and Duncan at the conference makes it possible to get something done.
"The 'Connecticut effect' is not passing us, it is galvanizing us," Esty said.
She said the leadership and courage of local leaders and Connecticut residents was unbelievable in the face of so much loss.
"You get up every morning and tell your story, and you make sure your country moves forward every day," she said.
Tackling the problem
Blumenthal asked panelists whether more gun control is needed at the federal level and whether better gun safety training and safety locks are needed.
Dom Basile, a sportsman, said he thought access to guns was the crux of the problem. He said the mother of shooter Adam Lanza "did not have the guns properly secured." He said the state's anti-gun trafficking task force needs to be funded again.
Stacy Spell, a retired detective from New Haven, agreed. "Straw buyers who purchase guns from Virginia and North Carolina need to be stopped."
Many panelists said the laws already on the books need to be enforced.
"The best laws don't work if they are not enforced," Blumenthal said.
Murphy moderated the panel on mental health and school safety and asked panelists whether more school resource officers and mental health professionals were needed.
Steve Girelli, president and chief executive officer of Klinberg Family Centers based in New Britain, said the police officers in schools are critical to children feeling safe. But Mark Benigni, superintendent of the Meriden Public Schools, said he believed officers are beneficial in middle and high schools, but that he would rather see limited resources spent on mental health workers in elementary schools.
"To add additional mental health support in our elementary schools, to increase family outreach at our elementary schools, would be things that I think are helpful," Benigni said.