Biden, NRA clash over gun control plan

WASHINGTON — 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.

“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 and greatly expanding background checks. 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.

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.

Some 40 percent of gun sales in the U.S. take place without background checks, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. They include sales at gun shows and by private sellers over the Internet and elsewhere. Moving to “totally universal background checks,” as Biden suggested Thursday, would be a major undertaking — and one the NRA opposes.

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.

During his meeting with sporting and wildlife groups, Biden said that while no recommendations would eliminate all future shootings, “there has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability that our children are at risk in their schools and diminish the probability that firearms will be used in violent behavior in our society.”

As the meetings took place in Washington, a student was shot and wounded at a rural California high school and another student was taken into custody.

Biden also talked about holes in NICS — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — when states don’t relay information to the database used by dealers to check purchasers. Advocates blame Congress for not fully funding a law that provides money to help states send records to the database.

Gun control backers see plenty of room for executive action when it comes to improving background checks and other areas.

For example, advocates say Obama could order the Justice Department to prosecute more people flagged by background checks as prohibited purchasers when they try to buy guns; expand a rule that requires dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives when someone tries to buy multiple semiautomatic rifles, a program now confined to Mexico border states, and increase enforcement actions at gun shows.

The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has sent the White House 40 steps it says would save lives and dramatically improve enforcement of existing laws without any action by Congress.

Several Cabinet members have also taken on an active role in Biden’s gun violence task force, including Attorney General Eric Holder. He met Thursday with Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest firearms seller, along with other retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

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

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