The top U.S. gun lobby rejected Obama administration proposals to reduce gun violence Friday, saying it expects to have enough support in Congress to fend off bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and stricter background checks on gun buyers.
President Barack Obama has pushed reducing gun violence to the top of his domestic agenda following last month's shooting of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut school with a legally purchased high-powered rifle. Vice President Joe Biden leads a task force on policy proposals and has promised to send ideas to Obama by Tuesday.
Obama hopes to announce the next steps after he is sworn in for a second term later this month. Biden's meetings with various interest groups continued Friday at the White House.
The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups met with Biden on Thursday, and the NRA emerged with its objections to any gun restrictions intact. The group wants to have an armed security officer in every school in the country instead.
"I do not think that there's going to be a ban on so-called assault weapons passed by the Congress," NRA president David Keene told NBC on Friday morning. Keene said there is a fundamental disagreement over what would actually make a difference in curbing gun violence.
Opposition from the well-funded, politically powerful NRA underscores the challenges that await the White House if it seeks congressional approval for limiting guns and ammunition. Obama can use his executive powers to act alone on some gun measures, but his options on the proposals opposed by the NRA are limited without Congress' co-operation.
The NRA and many Americans consider individual gun ownership a basic right, citing the Constitution's Second Amendment that gives citizens the right to bear arms. Gun control advocates counter that the Second Amendment never was intended to allow ordinary citizens to wield military-style weapons like the one used in the Connecticut shooting.
The U.S. is home to about 35 to 50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned firearms.
"We can do a great deal without in any way imposing on and impinging on the rights of the Second Amendment," Biden said Thursday.
The Obama administration is assembling proposals that would include a ban on sales of assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers.
"The vice-president made it clear, made it explicitly clear, that the president had already made up his mind on those issues," Keene said after Thursday's meeting. "We made it clear that we disagree with them."
White House officials said the vice-president didn't expect to win over the NRA and other gun groups on those key issues. But the administration was hoping to soften their opposition in order to rally support from pro-gun lawmakers in Congress.
Biden acknowledged that the issue is a complicated one, but he added, "The public wants us to act,"
Other participants described Thursday's meeting as open and frank but said it yielded little movement from either side on long-held positions.
Richard Feldman, the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, said all were in agreement on a need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental health issues.
Biden's proposals are expected to include recommendations to address mental health care and violence on television and in movies and video games. Those issues have wide support from gun rights groups and pro-gun lawmakers.
Biden also talked about holes in NICS — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — when states don't relay information to the database used by dealers to check purchasers. Advocates blame Congress for not fully funding a law that provides money to help states send records to the database.
Gun control backers see plenty of room for executive action when it comes to improving background checks and other areas.
For example, advocates say Obama could order the Justice Department to prosecute more people flagged by background checks as prohibited purchasers when they try to buy guns; expand a rule that requires dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives when someone tries to buy multiple semiautomatic rifles, a program now confined to Mexico border states, and increase enforcement actions at gun shows.
The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has sent the White House 40 steps it says would save lives and dramatically improve enforcement of existing laws without any action by Congress.