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Biden on gun control: Public wants us to act

Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 9:30 a.m. CDT
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(Pool photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via Abaca Press/MCT)
Vice President Joe Biden will urge President Barack Obama to pursue new gun controls as the first way to curb gun violence.

(MCT) — WASHINGTON — Moving quickly, Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he will urge President Barack Obama to pursue new gun controls as the first, best way to curb gun violence.

Biden said his White House task force will submit its recommendations to Obama by Tuesday, a list that will include improving background checks on gun buyers, promoting gun safety and limiting high-capacity magazines.

He said that his efforts are not an attempt to be comprehensive but that he wants to act quickly in the wake of a national outcry following a mass shooting in Connecticut last month that left 27 people and the shooter dead.

“I have a real, very tight window to do this,” Biden said. “It doesn’t mean that this will be the end of the discussion, but the public wants us to act.”

Obama charged Biden, a former senator and trusted adviser on a number of high-profile issues, to lead a task force that would examine gun control, mental health services, and violence in the media and video games.

The administration will consider executive actions, which do not require congressional approval, as well as legislation that most likely would be difficult to pass through a divided Congress.

Biden’s back-to-back meetings with gun rights groups Thursday underscored the strong opposition facing the Obama administration. He met with the powerful gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association, as well as sporting groups, wildlife interest groups and representatives from the entertainment industry.

In a statement Thursday, the NRA, which has suggested posting armed guards in every school, said it was “disappointed” with a meeting that it says was designed to attack the Second Amendment.

“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,” the group said. “It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen.”

Biden, who described himself as “an owner of shotguns,” disputed the accusation.

“I’m not sure we can guarantee this will never happen again, but as the president said, even if we can only save one life it would make sense,” he said. “And I think we can do a great deal without in any way imposing on and impinging on the rights of the Second Amendment.”

Over three weeks, Biden and other administration officials spoke to crime victims, gun control groups, religious leaders, law enforcement organizations, the medical community and child advocacy groups. He said he still wants to speak to gun manufacturers.

“There is a powerful consensus building in this country which is reflected in the meetings of this task force,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who met with Biden Wednesday. “We are having the conversation the American public wants us to have.”

Though some Democrats who support gun rights, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia, have called for changes after the Connecticut shooting, strong opposition still exists on Capitol Hill and in governor’s mansions.

Biden phoned Republican and Democratic governors Wednesday, including those from states where some high-profile mass shooting have occurred — Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona. Other members of the Obama administration met with Capitol Hill staffers Thursday morning.

The vice president did not mention proposals Thursday that addresses violent images or expanding mental health services, though they may be included in his final list of recommendations.

Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he urged the Obama administration this week to develop early identification and intervention strategies and access to treatment and support at schools and in communities.

“The task force’s recommendation must include mental health care,” Fitzpatrick said. “No one solution can eliminate violence in America, but saving lives includes saving the lives of individuals and family members who struggle with mental illness every day.”

Obama already has called for Congress to ban assault weapons. Biden said his meetings had produced an “emerging set of recommendations.” They include:

—Creating a more complete universal background check system for all private gun sales.

—Easing restrictions on sharing information to allow agencies to conduct research on gun violence.

—Promoting gun safety by owners.

—Banning high-capacity magazines.

“There has got to be some common ground to not solve every problem but diminish the probability that what we have seen in these mass shootings will occur, and diminish the probability that our children are at risk in our schools, and diminish the probability that weapons will be used and firearms will be used in dealing with aberrant behavior that takes place in our society,” Biden said.

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(Lesley Clark contributed to this report.)

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