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Joe Biden's meetings spotlight gun control divide

11:50 AM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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Seeking to spur fresh action on gun legislation, Vice President Biden is scheduled to meet Wednesday with victims groups and gun-safety organizations.

The meeting is to be part of a series of gatherings Biden is conducting this week at the White House aimed at building a consensus around proposals to curb gun violence following the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The vice president will meet Thursday with the National Rifle Association and other gun-owner groups.

Meetings with representatives of the video-game and entertainment industries are also planned.

President Obama wants Biden to report back to him with policy proposals by the end of the month. Mr. Obama has vowed to move swiftly on the recommendations, a package expected to include both legislative proposals and executive action.

"He is mindful of the need to act," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

But as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown, Conn., shooting fade, the tough fight facing the White House and gun-control backers is growing clearer.

Gun-rights advocates, including the powerful NRA, are digging in against tighter gun restrictions, conservative groups are launching pro-gun initiatives, and the Senate's top Republican has warned it could be spring before Congress begins considering any gun legislation.

"The biggest problem we have at the moment is spending and debt," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said Sunday. "That's going to dominate the Congress between now and the end of March. None of these issues will have the kind of priority as spending and debt over the next two or three months."

The killing of 6- and 7-year-olds at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 appeared to stir a deep reaction from the White House and Capitol Hill. The president pushed gun control to the top of his domestic agenda for the first time and pledged to put the full weight of his presidency behind the issue. And some Republican and conservative lawmakers with strong gun-rights records also took the extraordinary step of calling for a discussion on new measures.

But other gun-rights advocates have shown less flexibility. The NRA has rejected stricter gun legislation and suggested instead that the government put armed guards in every school in America as a way to curb violence. A coalition of conservative groups is also organizing a "Gun Appreciation Day" later this month, to coincide with Mr. Obama's second inauguration.

The president hopes to announce his administration's next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21.

Connecticut's legislature was to return to work Wednesday, nearly four weeks after the Sandy Hook school shootings. Its first order of business, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Plante - debating strict new gun laws.

Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the rampage that wounded now former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, took the occasion to announce they had formed a political action committee to prevent gun violence and bring changes to laws, such as requiring comprehensive background check for firearms sales. They wrote in USA Today that they intend tol raise funds to fight the influence of the gun lobby.

Giffords' announcement about her foray into the gun control debate brought back memories from the 1980s, when Jim and Sarah Brady formed the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Brady, then-President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was wounded in the 1981 presidential assassination attempt by a mentally ill gunman.

Brady's organization has been among the most vocal champions of gun control since then, but it remains to be seen whether Giffords' group can better compete against the National Rifle Association and its huge fundraising and political clout.

The NRA spent at least $24 million in the 2012 election cycle, including $16.8 million through its political action committee and $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. By comparison, the Brady Campaign spent around $5,800.

And when it comes to direct lobbying of lawmakers, the NRA was also dominant. Through July 1, the NRA spent $4.4 million to lobby Congress, compared with the Brady Campaign's $60,000.

Mr. Obama wants Congress to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that enable gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines.

Other 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.

Some of those steps could be taken through executive action, without the approval of Congress. White House officials say Mr. Obama will not finalize any actions until receiving Biden's recommendations.

Gun-rights lawmakers and outside groups have insisted that any policy response to the Newtown shooting also include an examination of mental health policies and the impact of violent movies and video games. To those people, the White House has pledged a comprehensive response.

"It is not a problem that can be solved by any specific action or single action that the government might take," Carney said. "It's a problem that encompasses issues of mental health, of education, as well as access to guns."

In addition to Biden's meetings this week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will meet with parent and teacher groups, while Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will meet with mental health and disability advocates.

The White House said other meetings are also scheduled with community organizations, business owners and religious leaders.

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