Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday the outlines of a consensus are emerging on how to address gun violence in America, including universal background checks on gun buyers and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Mr. Biden also said that he is committed to presenting his recommendations to President Obama next Tuesday.
“There is a surprising, so far, recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks," Biden said. He added that he had never heard so much spontaneous talk about “doing something” about high-capacity magazines.
But that was before any of his meetings Thursday, first with sports-hunting and wildlife groups and later with groups that support the rights of gun owners. The National Rifle Association, America’s largest gun-rights organization, which sent a representative to the second meeting, is crying foul.
"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 NRA said in a statement after the meeting, which its legislative director attended with Biden and several cabinet secretaries.
The statement continued: "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. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen."
The negative tone of the NRA statement contrasted with the impressions of another participant in the meeting, Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
“It was a conversation and not a lecture,” Mr. Feldman said in an interview after the meeting. “I thought they listened,” he said, speaking of Biden and the cabinet members in the room, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
“I said in the meeting, ‘Let’s focus attention on the problem: In whose hands are the guns?’ ” Feldman said.
One problem Feldman noted was incomplete data in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, which is meant to help prevent those ineligible, including felons and people who have been committed to a mental institution, from acquiring firearms. Biden also referenced the NICS issue in his remarks before Thursday’s meetings.
“[It] doesn't do a whole lot of good if in some states they have a backlog of 40[,000], 50[,000], 60,000 felons that they never register here,” Biden said.
Mr. Obama asked Biden to head up an interagency task force on gun violence after the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six educators dead. The goal is to act fast, the president said, before memories fade and the impetus for action loses its edge.
Biden was scheduled to meet Thursday evening with representatives of the entertainment industry. In a separate meeting, Mr. Holder was to meet with some of the nation’s largest retailers of guns, including Wal-Mart. Biden also said he hoped to have a conference call with gun manufacturers.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are already discussing how best to proceed legislatively. But there is no public agreement yet on whether to try a big package of measures, which would be hard to pass, or to move smaller bills that would accomplish less but have a greater chance of passing.
Obama has said he wants a new ban on military-style assault weapons. Such a ban passed in 1994, but expired in 2004. The ban covered only certain weapons and only those produced after the ban went into effect. It was seen as having little impact on gun violence.