Leaders of the Democratic-led Senate expect to begin debate on guns next week, though some bills may not even get a vote in the Republican-run House of Representatives.
Biden was joined in Richmond by the state’s new Democratic senator, Tim Kaine, who was governor when the Virginia Tech massacre occurred.
The state’s other senator, Mark Warner, declined an invitation. Warner, a Democrat who has a top rating from the NRA, said after the Newtown shooting that the nation needs to consider changing its gun laws, but he has not taken a position on Obama’s proposals.
“Virginia is a place where we have the scar tissue of tragedy, but we also have reason to be positive,” Kaine said. “There are things you can do that work. You can do them by working together.”
The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was allowed to buy a gun because information about his mental health was not available. The state had been providing data to the federal clearinghouse for background checks – the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – but not on some patients who were required to receive outpatient treatment. That changed after the shooting.
Conversations in Richmond on Friday focused almost exclusively on requiring universal background checks and expanding mental health counseling, and not on the most contentious aspects of the package. Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose district includes parts of Richmond, and Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was state attorney general at the time of the Virginia Tech shooting, were invited, but none attended.
Biden and Kaine spoke about how Kaine worked with Republicans, including McDonnell, to help fix the background check system. Many Republicans have taken a wait-and-see approach, though the Republican-led state legislature is considering passing a bill to prevent state officials from helping to enforce any federal gun control legislation.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which considers guns proposals, said after the Newtown shooting that he will “listen to and carefully review suggestions” to administration proposals.
David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.