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In Google Hangout, Biden Confronts Critics, Coaches Silicon Valley on Gun Advocacy

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, January 24 2013

Shades of Silicon Valley's nascent political activism and the White House's full-bore use of the Internet in its own public engagement efforts were on display Thursday in a "Fireside" Google hangout with Vice President Joe Biden, venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, and PBS Newshour's Hari Sreenivasan.

In the span of a little over half an hour, Sreenivasan moderated as Kawasaki and other guests — video blogger Phil DeFranco; Theresa Tillett, a member of the NRA from Hartford, Conn, who is seeking a gun permit; and Kimberley Blaine, who moderates a parenting community on Google Plus and is a mental health practitioner — quizzed Biden on the White House's push to tighten regulations on guns in the wake of December's tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The event also highlighted one of the interesting aspects of hosting a live Internet chat: Participants can fact-check one another on the fly.

In one of the first questions, DeFranco suggested that the assault weapons ban had expired because it had proven to be ineffective, and said that such weapons accounted for less than one percent of cases with loss of life.

"Even though [assault weapons account] for a small percentage of murders, police officers overwhelmingly support it because they get outgunned by the bad guys and the proliferation of these weapons," Biden responded.

Later in the conversation, DeFranco pulled up FBI statistics showing that while the number of assault weapons had increased since the ban expired, the number of murders had gone down. He also said that some Californians were concerned about being able to protect themselves in the event of a major earthquake.

"First of all, a double-barreled shot gun will keep you a lot safer than an assault weapon," Biden said. "Buy some shotgun shells in an earthquake."

Biden, whose art of one-on-one, grip-and-grin politics is fascinating to many, took the opportunity to pivot from assault weapons to another key White House talking point: High-capacity clips. Invoking former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who announced last year that she would not run for re-election while recovering from a shooting that almost claimed her life, Biden questioned the "sporting need" for high-capacity clips.

"More people get shot with a Glock than from any assault weapon," the vice president said. "I'm much less concerned about what you call assault weapons, than the number of magazines, and the number of rounds."

White House officials have also said they plan to use the Internet to engage directly with their critics. Thursday was no exception.

Tillett, the NRA member, suggested that many owners were feeling "picked on or attacked" because most violent crimes were committed by known criminals, and asked what was being done to enforce current laws.

"My dad was a hunter with a gun case," Biden responded. The vice president added that he owns two shotguns, and his sons own shotguns as well.

Biden also took the opportunity to draw a distinction between gun owners in general and NRA's leadership. Biden said that 98 percent of gun owners support more background checks for gun purchases; NRA officials have repeatedly pushed back against the idea of any additional roadblocks on gun ownership.

Kawasaki asked why solving the gun violence issue was so hard, especially with "special interests" pushing for less research into gun crimes. And he also asked what people like him — represented in California by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — could do to lobby for gun control measures when their representatives were already on board.

"Elected officials respond to intensity," Biden said in response to the Silicon Valley VC's question.

If an issue is number 10 on an average person's list of concerns for Congress, Biden said, it wouldn't receive as much attention than if it is the number one issue for a smaller group of people with an extreme point of view who see it as their top priority. That's why, he said, he wanted to participate in the hangout, which he said was reaching tens of thousands of people.

"If you don't agree with me on assault weapons, you may agree with me on background checks," Biden said. "This town listens when people rise up."

He emphasized that members of the public should get in contact with members of Congress.