Responding to scathing criticism of the 1994 crime bill in light of the recent Hill shootings in Georgia and Tennessee, former Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the measure — which was a key election-year message for President Obama — “wasn’t perfect” but “it helped save many lives.”
“A lot of people out there who say we should repeal the crime bill, I say, repeal my soul,” Mr. Biden said during a town hall-style meeting at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. “I don’t want my soul going to hell, it didn’t go to hell.”
Two days after a fatal shooting spree at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Mr. Biden was speaking in his home state — one of 12 that he had that year when President Bill Clinton ran for re-election — to the American College of Trial Lawyers as they celebrated their legislative accomplishments.
He spoke about the passage of the 1994 crime bill and the court cases that it spawned.
“There are elements of the crime bill that were a mistake,” Mr. Biden said. “There are others that helped save a lot of lives.”
Mr. Biden last appeared in the Hoosier State in March at the National Conference of State Legislatures, where Mr. Biden was honored with a lifetime achievement award for his work on prison reform. The former vice president has campaigned for Mr. Sanders this year but has not disclosed plans for a possible presidential bid in 2020.
Appearing with Mr. Biden at the trial lawyers’ event was Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., a longtime friend.
“Joe Biden is a great man, one of my closest friends,” Mr. Yarmuth said. “My administration was changed by his candidacy.”
Asked by a member of the audience if he was thinking about running for president, Mr. Biden said he was focused on the Clinton-Russia investigation.
“I’m not moving,” he said. “I’m moving full steam ahead as a matter of fact.”
Mr. Biden and the Democrats who ran in 1996 were criticized by Republicans for getting too soft on crime. The crime bill also paid for major education initiatives and federal funds were tied to sentencing reform, which put more nonviolent offenders in prisons.
Mr. Biden said Thursday that Mr. Clinton and Democratic congressional leaders “saved lives” with the changes and that the violence was so bad that they had to act.
“You can’t just lay off, take a year off, as Ronald Reagan was known to do,” Mr. Biden said. “You can’t be just, throw them in jail for four years. That is not how we are going to change this country.”