Vice President Joe Biden said he sees a growing consensus for universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, giving a preview of some policies he’ll recommend to President Barack Obama early next week.
“There is an emerging set of recommendations -- not coming from me but coming from the groups we’ve met,” Biden said yesterday at the start of a meeting with groups representing hunters and wildlife organizations.
The vice president said he plans to deliver by Jan. 15 his recommendations for legislative and executive actions to stem gun violence as part of the administration’s response to last month’s massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school.
While Biden didn’t mention seeking a renewal of the 1994 assault-weapons ban, White House officials stressed that the administration intends to pursue a prohibition on such military- style guns.
“The president has been clear that Congress should reinstate the assault--weapons ban,” Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, said. “Avoiding this issue just because it’s been politically difficult in the past is not an option.”
Gun-rights groups and their Republican allies have already signaled that they will oppose reinstating the ban, which expired in 2004.
“We don’t think that a ban on so-called assault weapons, which hasn’t worked in the past, is going to work this time,” David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, said today on NBC’s “Today” program. He predicted Congress won’t pass an assault-weapon ban.
Obama has said he will address firearms violence in his State of the Union address, scheduled for Feb. 12.
The main weapon used in the Dec. 14 shooting in Connecticut was a semi-automatic rifle modeled on a military weapon, and the gunman was equipped with high-capacity magazines, according to police. Most of the 20 children and six adults killed at the school were shot multiple times. A similar rifle was used in a mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater last July that killed 12 and wounded 58.
Biden said he and other administration officials, as they met with gun-control advocates and representatives of victims, repeatedly heard about the need for “near universal background checks” in firearms transactions, greater freedom for federal agencies to conduct research about gun crimes, and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines.
“I have a real tight window to do this,” Biden said. “The public wants us to act.”
The Democratic governors of states including New York and Maryland are calling for tougher restrictions on so-called assault weapons and some Democratic lawmakers are pushing to reinstate the ban. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California plans to introduce legislation expanding the classification of assault weapons and prohibiting their sale and importation.
Such proposals have long been opposed by the NRA, the top lobbyist for gun owners and manufacturers, which took part in a meeting with Biden yesterday.
After the session, the NRA released a statement accusing the White House of pushing “an agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” rather than focusing on policies to improve safety for children.
“We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen,” the NRA said.
Along with the NRA, this week’s meetings have included other representatives of gun owners and manufacturers and the entertainment industry, including Comcast Corp. and the Motion Picture Association of America, and retailers Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US), the world’s biggest, and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS:US), the largest U.S. sporting goods chain, which suspended sales of some rifles after the Connecticut shootings.
As Biden spoke yesterday, a teacher and a student were shot and wounded at a high school in California’s San Joaquin Valley, according to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The injured student was in critical condition and another student was taken into custody.
Since the Connecticut shootings, advocates of more restrictions have revived long-stalled efforts to push for legislation to regulate or limit access to guns.
“There is nothing that has gone to the heart of the matter more than the image people have of little 6-year-old kids riddled, not shot, but riddled, riddled, with bullet holes in their classroom,” Biden said.
As legislative fixes percolate, outside groups are laying the groundwork to fight the NRA, which claims more than 4 million members and spent at least $20 million advocating for the election of pro-gun federal candidates last year.
Steve and Amber Mostyn, wealthy Texas trial attorneys, said ON Jan. 9 they’re giving $1 million to help a gun-control advocacy group formed by former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords was critically wounded in a 2011 shooting by a gunman in Tucson who killed six other people.
“It’s time to stop the NRA from bullying common sense out of the discussion,” he said in an interview. “There are more options than just ‘guns or no guns.’”
The NRA has rejected any new limits on firearms ownership, proposing instead that the government put armed guards in U.S. schools to protect students. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the group, didn’t return e-mails or calls requesting comment.
Other gun-rights advocates are pushing back against proposed rules as Republicans warn that it could be months before Congress takes up legislation.
A coalition of gun-rights groups has planned a nationwide action for Jan. 19, a day before Obama will be sworn in for a second term. The groups are urging gun-rights supporters to show up at firearms stores, gun shows and shooting ranges that day.
About 85 Americans are fatally shot daily -- 53 of them suicides, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, restrictions on firearms have faced resistance in Congress for decades.
Beyond firearms restrictions, Biden has said the panel will examine ways to boost mental-health programs in schools and steps to alter a culture in the U.S. that glamorizes guns and violence.
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