By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A gun control supporter's victory in a Chicago Democratic congressional primary election is a sign that voters want tougher gun laws and are turning against the powerful gun lobby, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
Robin Kelly, a former Illinois state representative, won the election Tuesday to run for the U.S. House seat of former Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.
It was the first U.S. electoral test since gun control rose to the top of the political agenda after a gunman killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.
"For the first time since Newtown, voters sent a clear unequivocal signal," Biden told a group of state attorney generals, who were meeting in Washington.
Kelly beat Debbie Halvorson, a former congresswoman who was rated highly by the National Rifle Association, a prominent gun-rights group. Halvorson opposed a U.S. ban on military-style assault weapons.
"The voters sent a message last night, not just to the NRA, but to the politicians all around the country. There will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction," Biden said.
Biden made his comments on a day when the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing on reviving a 1994 ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, one of several measures he and Obama recommended lawmakers pursue.
Democrats in the Senate have split the proposals into four bills in an effort to get at least some of the less controversial measures - such as expanded background checks for gun buyers - passed into law.
The split is an implicit acknowledgement by Democrats that a ban on military-style "assault" weapons is unlikely to clear Congress.
Biden devoted very little time in his 45-minute speech to the proposed ban, spending more time discussing less-controversial measures such as improved background checks for people who want to buy guns, and an increase in mental health research and services.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)