Biden, NRA Clash Over New Gun Control Proposals

NRA, however, said some participants at WH meeting were more interested in attacking Second Amendment than keeping kids safe

By ERICA WERNER and JULIE PACE
|  Thursday, Jan 10, 2013  |  Updated 7:07 PM EDT
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Biden, NRA Clash Over New Gun Control Proposals

AP

Vice President Joe Biden, with Attorney General Eric Holder at left, speaks during a meeting with victim's groups and gun safety organizations in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Biden is holding a series of meetings this week as part of the effort he is leading to develop policy proposals in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

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Despite fresh opposition from the National Rifle Association, the Obama administration is assembling proposals to curb gun violence that would include a ban on sales of assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers.

Sketching out details of the plan Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said he would give President Barack Obama a set of recommendations by next Tuesday. The NRA, one of the pro-gun groups that met with Biden during the day, rejected the effort to limit ammunition and dug in on its opposition to an assault weapons ban, which Obama has previously said he will propose to Congress.

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"The vice president made it clear, made it explicitly clear, that the president had already made up his mind on those issues," NRA president David Keene said following the meeting. "We made it clear that we disagree with them."

Opposition from the well-funded and politically powerful NRA underscores the challenges that await the White House if it seeks congressional approval for limiting guns and ammunition. Obama can use his executive powers to act alone on some gun measures, but his options on the proposals opposed by the NRA are limited without Congress' cooperation.

Obama has pushed reducing gun violence to the top of his domestic agenda following last month's massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. The president put Biden in charge of an administration-wide task force and set a late January deadline for proposals.

"I committed to him I'd have these recommendations to him by Tuesday," Biden said Thursday, during a separate White House meeting with sportsmen and wildlife groups. "It doesn't mean it's the end of the discussion, but the public wants us to act."

The vice president later huddled privately with the NRA and other gun owner groups for more than 90 minutes. Participants in the meeting described it as an open and frank discussion, but one that yielded little movement from either side on long-held positions.

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Richard Feldman, the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, said all were in agreement on a need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental health issues. But when the conversation turned to broad restrictions on high capacity magazines and assault weapons, Feldman said Biden suggested the president had already made up his mind to seek a ban.

"Is there wiggle room and give?" Feldman said. "I don't know."

White House officials said the vice president didn't expect to win over the NRA and other gun groups on those key issues. But the administration was hoping to soften their opposition in order to rally support from pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Biden's proposals are also expected to include recommendations to address mental health care and violence on television and in movies and video games. Those issues have wide support from gun rights groups and pro-gun lawmakers.

The vice president also met Thursday with representatives from the entertainment industry, including Comcast Corp. and the Motion Picture Association of America. He'll hold talks Friday with the video game industry. 

"We will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not."

Biden was also meeting Thursday with sportsmen and wildlife organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, as well as the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Firearms Import/Export Roundtable.

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest firearms seller, will meet separately with Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday along with other retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Biden has also said the administration is weighing executive action in addition to recommending legislation by Congress. Those steps could include making gun-trafficking a felony, getting the Justice Department to prosecute people caught lying on gun background-check forms and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that about 40 percent of gun sales are made without background checks, often at gun shows and over the Internet.

Representatives from the Brady Campaign joined other victims' groups and gun safety organizations for meetings with Biden on Wednesday. The vice president said the steps the administration is considering could "take thousands of people out of harm's way" and improve the safety of millions more.

"I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing," Biden said. "It's critically important we act."

The Newtown shootings pushed gun control to the top of Obama's domestic agenda for the first time during his presidency. He was largely silent on the hot-button political issue after the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 12 others, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the Colorado movie theater killing of a dozen people and wounding of many more last July.

The president hopes to announce his administration's next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term and has pledged to push for new measures in his State of the Union address.

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