NRA criticizes White House on guns; Biden gives broad hints on policy

Vice President Biden on Thursday gave the strongest hints yet on what the White House's gun violence task force is considering, and said he would present his recommendations to President Obama by Tuesday.

"There is an emerging set of recommendations, not coming from me, but coming from the groups we have met with," Biden said at the opening of a meeting with sportsmen's and wildlife interest groups — the first of three meetings he held Thursday on gun violence. 

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He said he would be focusing on the recommendations that "relate primarily to gun ownership, and the type of weapons we own."

Biden had been given an end-of-month deadline to offer his task force’s recommendations to Obama. The president formed the group after 20 6- and 7-year-olds were killed in a mass shooting last month at a Connecticut elementary school. Seven adults were also killed in the rampage.

Biden on Thursday indicated he is way ahead of schedule: “I have committed to him that I will have the recommendations to him by Tuesday,” he said. 

Such a timetable will inevitably lead some to suggest the flurry of meetings this week is mere window dressing, and that the administration has already decided on how to proceed. 

But Biden on Thursday cast the pending recommendations as coming from the groups he has met with, and not the administration. He said he's repeatedly been told there's a need for universal background checks on those who purchase guns, and that a ban on high-capacity magazines is necessary.

"There is a surprising — so far — a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks, not just close the gun-show loophole but totally [institute] universal background checks, including private sales," Biden added.

The National Rifle Association, however, released a statement saying it was disappointed with the process after a representative from the powerful lobbying group attended one of Biden's Thursday meetings. 

It criticized the White House effort as being too focused on guns and limiting Second Amendment rights. 

"We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment," the group said in a statement. "While claiming that no policy proposals would be 'prejudged,' this task force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners — honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans. 

"It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems," the statement continued. "We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen. Instead, 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."

Opposition from the NRA has led to doubts that much will come out of the administration effort, and Biden acknowledged his former Senate colleagues have been "universally opposed" to tougher restrictions on gun ownership. 

Yet he said he has been hearing support for bans on high-capacity clips, which were used in several recent mass shootings. 

"I have never quite heard as much talk about the need to do something about high-capacity magazines as I have heard spontaneously from every group I have met with so far," he said. 

“America's sportsmen and -women are the primary funders of fish and wildlife conservation through excise taxes paid on firearms and ammunition and license fees,” Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Executive Director Ron Regan said in a statement following the meeting.

“Our hope is to ensure that their interests are part of this national discussion at hand and manage against any unintended consequences through continuing, thoughtful policy deliberation.”

Biden on Wednesday suggested Obama would issue executive orders on guns, and that the Newtown shootings had changed the Washington debate over guns in a way that made action possible on a difficult issue. 

"The public wants us to act," Biden declared, in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he said shook the country more than any act of violence "in all my years involved in these issues."

“There is nothing that has pricked the consciousness of the American people, there is nothing that has gone to the heart of the matter more than the visual image people have of little 6-year-old kids riddled — not shot with a stray bullet — riddled, riddled with bullet holes in their classroom,” the vice president said. “And the public demands we speak to it.”

Biden emphasized that he believed the administration could accomplish "a great deal" on the issue of gun violence "without in any way imposing on and impinging on the rights of the Second Amendment."

With regard to the NRA and gun-owners' groups, Biden said he hoped to find some common ground and to “diminish the probability” of future mass shootings.

“That's what this is all about,” he continued. “There are no conclusions I have reached.”

Biden said he hopes to conduct a conference call later in the week with gun manufacturers.

Biden suggested Thursday that the federal government would revamp the way it collected data on gun violence, comparing current limits on data-gathering with the 1970s-era restrictions on federal research on the causes of traffic fatalities.

He emphasized that the government needed to gather information on “what kind of weapons are used most to kill people” and “what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons” to better evaluate the problem of gun violence.

Most of the administration's attention so far appears to be directed at guns, though Obama has said the mental-health system and the role of popular culture will also be addressed. 

According to Variety, attendees at the entertainment meeting with Biden on Thursday evening will include Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America; Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters; and Michael Powell, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. The White House said lobbyists for theater owners, the Director's Guild and cable and entertainment provider Comcast would also be in attendance.

Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives from the nation’s top gun retailers, including Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shops and Dick's Sporting Goods. 

On Friday, Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher and other video game industry representatives will meet with Biden.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the video game industry has been criticized for producing first-person shooter games, such as "Call of Duty" and "Medal of Honor: Gunfighter," and other violent content.

Biden's working group is expected to develop a mix of executive actions and legislation that would be sent to Congress. In addition to the aspects outlined in the meeting, the legislative package is likely to suggest an assault-weapon ban and making lying on background-check forms a felony.

Executive action by the president could include mandating that federal agencies report information about gun ownership to a centralized database, and increased law enforcement against those who traffic weapons or make false statements on gun permit applications.


This story was posted at 1 p.m. and updated at 7:40 p.m.