The nation’s largest gun-rights lobby says some participants at its White House meeting seemed more interested in demonizing the Second Amendment than keeping students safe.
The National Rifle Association met with Vice President Joe Biden’s school safety study group on Thursday and afterward said the participants spent most their time on proposals to limit gun rights. The NRA says it, "will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen."
The politically powerful group — under public pressure since December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman massacred 20 children and six women — says it will now work with Congress to discuss what works in preventing violence and what does not.
Pledging swift action to curb gun violence, Biden says he will deliver new proposals to President Barack Obama by next Tuesday.
Biden said Thursday that while he had not finalized his recommendations, a consensus was emerging over banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as well as tightening background checks.
Some of those measures are likely to face opposition from some pro-gun groups, most notably the NRA.
Obama, after the horrific shooting of school children in Newtown, Conn., appointed Biden to lead a task force on preventing gun violence. He set a late January deadline for recommendations, which he pledged to act on swiftly.
The vice president said Thursday that while no recommendations would eliminate all future mass shootings, "there has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability."
The NRA, the nation’s largest gun-rights group, has worked to block gun-control efforts in the past and is opposing any new ones. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre rejected efforts to tighten gun laws and instead recommended putting armed guards in all schools.
LaPierre was not scheduled to attend the White House meeting. Instead, the NRA dispatched its top lobbyist, James Baker, who has worked with Biden previously on gun issues.
White House officials recognize it is unlikely the NRA will fully support measures Obama is pushing. But the administration may need to soften the NRA’s opposition if it hopes to rally support from pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The NRA, too, seemed eager to rally its allies in Congress.
"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 its statement.
"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.
Biden, NRA have long history of antagonism
Joe Biden’s relationship over the years with the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been marked by antagonism - particularly given Biden’s central role in passing the 1994 crime bill that codified the first federal assault weapons ban. Biden has also routinely earned an “F” rating from the group.
Here’s a look at the interactions between the two over the years:
The NRA fought tooth and nail against passage of the 1994 crime bill, which Biden authored, because of its ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
Biden had been working on the bill for six years when it stalled in the House, and he repeatedly blamed the NRA during that period for holding it up.
“I have underestimated every year the power of the NRA. I must acknowledge that,” Biden told NPR in 1994. “For six years, the NRA, in conjunction with our Republican colleagues and a few of our Democratic friends, have blocked the passage of tough crime legislation.”
Four years earlier, in the early stages of the same debate, the NRA accused Biden of trying pass an “underhanded gun ban.”
“Sen. Biden is camouflaging (Michael) Dukakis’ gun ban ideas under the rhetoric of President (George H.W.) Bush’s popular crime-fighting ideas, so he can push through a federal gun ban before you and I can stop him,” an NRA letter said, according to the Portland Oregonian.
The NRA also ran ads at the time featuring NRA activist and actor Charlton Heston saying the crime bill, which aimed to put 100,000 more police officers on the streets, would cost $70,000 per officer and thus fall short of the 100,000 goal.
Biden took issue with the figure and attacked Heston, according to the Los Angeles Times: “I do not know how many of you hire your cops back home for $70,000 a year. I guess he is just used to being in Hollywood, where they pay a lot of money for those things.”
Eventually, Biden did play some ball with the NRA, offering an amendment to the crime bill that would exempt current owners of high-capacity clips from prosecution after the ban was enacted.
The amendment was drafted by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a pro-gun Democrat who subsequently resigned from the NRA’s board, and the bill passed in the House - which had been the major stumbling block in the process.
Biden wasn’t done hitting the NRA, though. In 1995, when the NRA defended gun rights by referring to people’s need to protect themselves against “jack-booted government thugs,” Biden responded by saying the NRA’s rhetoric probably cost it two members for every member it gained.
In 1996, Biden criticized the NRA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for their objections to an anti-terrorism bill that included expanded wiretaps and FBI access to financial records.
“They’re a minority, no matter how you add it up,” he said of the NRA and the ACLU, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He offered similar thoughts during a 1996 appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” going after another gun group, the Gun Owners of America, for opposing wiretaps.
“The reason is because of the militia groups. The reason is because of the Gun Owners of America. The reason is because of this mentality out there, the small group of people in America who think that the government is the enemy, it is the sworn enemy,” Biden said.
Much earlier in Biden’s tenure, some harsh words were exchanged during the crafting of another crime bill in 1984.
Biden brought the NRA to the table when he headed up an effort to ban armor-piercing, so-called “cop-killer” bullets. He later accused the group of crafting the proposal and then lobbying senators to vote against it.
“We feel double-crossed,” Biden said, according to UPI. “It appears as though we’ve been stuck.”
More recently, Biden offended gun rights activists at a 2007 Democratic presidential debate. In response a questioner who had submitted a YouTube video of himself holding an assault rifle, which he’d described as “my baby,” Biden suggested the man might have mental problems.
“I’ll tell you what, if that is his baby, he needs help,” Biden said. “I don’t know that he is mentally qualified to own that gun.”
During the general election campaign, Biden sought to play up his blue collar roots and the fact that he owned guns.
“I guarantee you Barack Obama ain’t taking my shotguns, so don’t buy that malarkey,” Biden said in rural Virginia, according to ABC News. “Don’t buy that malarkey. They’re going to start peddling that to you.”
“I got two,” Biden said. “If he tries to fool with my Beretta, he’s got a problem. . . . Give me a break.”
Later in the campaign, the NRA ran a tough ad in Pennsylvania criticizing Biden’s record on guns: “Joe Biden wants you to believe he shares your values because he was born in Scranton,” the ad says. “But Pennsylvania gun owners and hunters don’t share his values.”
— The Washington Post
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