By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined parents of Newtown massacre victims on Thursday to urge Congress to enact gun-control laws, chastising the Senate for failing to support a ban on assault weapons.
The vice president and the mayor, two of the nation's most prominent gun-control advocates, were joined at a City Hall news conference by relatives of victims killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14.
"I'm really ashamed to see that Congress doesn't have the guts to stand up and make a change and put a ban on these type of weapons," Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was killed at Sandy Hook, told a news conference.
Biden's appearance at New York City Hall, the first by a sitting vice president since 1979, came two days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said there were not enough votes in the Senate for an assault weapons ban.
The bill does include measures to expand background checks on people buying guns and to increase school security.
"That weapon of war has no place on American streets, and taking it off American streets has no impact on one's constitutional right to own a weapon," Biden said, referring to the military-style semiautomatic rifle used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, where he killed 20 children and six adults.
"For all those who say we shouldn't or couldn't ban high-capacity magazines, I just ask them one question -- think about Newtown," Biden said.
New York became the first state to enact gun-control laws after the Sandy Hook shooting, requiring universal background checks on gun buyers, a limit on magazine size and a requirement that most guns be registered with the state.
On Thursday, the National Rifle Association and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association filed a legal challenge to the law, saying it breached the Second Amendment right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution.
Biden criticized lawmakers he said were afraid to pass gun-control laws because it might harm their careers.
"It must be awful being in public office and concluding, that even though you might believe you should take action, that you can't take action because of the political consequence you face," he said. "What a heck of a way to make a living."
Bloomberg, who leads a gun-control advocacy group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said most Americans supported the proposed gun-control laws and that inaction by Congress was resulting in unnecessary deaths.
"There is no real debate among the American people. Around the country, Americans understand that requiring a background check for every gun sale is just good common sense," Bloomberg said, citing recent polls.
"The only question is whether Congress will have the courage to do the right thing - or whether they will allow more innocent people, including innocent children, to be gunned down."
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Grebler)