Biden to send gun violence proposals to Obama by Tuesday, says consensus emerging

WASHINGTON - The U.S. vice-president said Thursday that he will deliver recommendations on curbing gun violence to President Barack Obama by Tuesday, days before the president’s second term begins. Joe Biden said a consensus is emerging on proposals such as tightening background checks for gun buyers and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Obama hopes to announce what steps his administration will take shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21. The national effort on guns comes after last month’s Connecticut school shooting.

Later Thursday, Biden was set to meet perhaps the toughest critic of gun violence policies, the National Rifle Association, which already has fiercely opposed any suggestion of new gun controls. The NRA is the country’s top gun lobby.

“We understand this is a complicated issue,” Biden said, adding that there is “no single answer.” He called the widespread agreement so far on “total universal background checks” surprising.

Biden, who leads the administration’s push on gun safety laws, said Wednesday that Obama could act on gun violence through executive action — meaning the approval of Congress would not be required.

That has unnerved some gun owners, who stand by the constitutional right to bear arms and fear their guns will be taken away. In Colorado, whose high-profile shootings include the Columbine school massacre and last year’s theatre attack, about 100 protesters on Wednesday demanded that lawmakers reject gun control measures.

But one outspoken advocate for tighter restrictions, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, shouted on Wednesday, “No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness now!”

Cuomo’s fiery policy speech called for tougher bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines of ammunition in a strengthening of the state’s gun control laws, which already are some of the most restrictive in the country.

Former President Bill Clinton added his voice on Wednesday, calling the availability of high-capacity gun magazines in the U.S. “nuts.”

The gun issue has rocketed into the top tier of Obama’s concerns for his second term after the Connecticut shooting, where a young man used a high-powered rifle legally purchased by his mother to shoot dead 20 children 6 and 7 years old.

Tackling gun violence won’t be easy in a country that is home to about 35 to 50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. The NRA has blocked gun-control efforts in the past and is opposing any new ones, instead saying after the Connecticut shooting that more guns should be given to the “good guys” and an armed security officer should be in every school.

Obama supports steps including reinstating a ban on assault weapons and closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.

NRA officials didn’t return messages for comment Wednesday, but the group’s executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre, has dismissed an assault weapons ban as “a phoney piece of legislation.”

LaPierre was not attending the White House meeting Thursday. Instead, the NRA was sending its top lobbyist, James Baker, who has worked with Biden previously on gun issues.

White House officials recognize it is unlikely the NRA will ever 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.

Recommendations to the Biden group 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, founded after President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary was shot in the head in an attempt to assassinate the president, says that some 40 per cent of gun sales are made without background checks, such as at gun shows and over the Internet.

Obama had remained largely silent on gun control during his first term despite a series of mass attacks, including one in 2011 where then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head. Giffords, a gun owner herself, launched a national political action committee this week to raise money to support candidates and counter the lobbying efforts of the NRA and similar pro-gun groups that actively go after politicians who defy the groups’ stance on guns.

The Connecticut shootings appeared to shake up a political system that has tried to sidestep the sensitive issue of guns.

“Every once in a while, there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career,” Biden said Wednesday.