Capping three days of meetings on ways to stem gun violence in light of the Connecticut shootings last month, Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday he was interested in technology that would keep a gun from being fired by anyone other than the person who bought it.
And it became clear that President Barack Obama plans to push for a controversial ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to stem gun violence in his State of the Union address next month.
"Had the young man not had access to his mother's arsenal, he may or may not have been able to get a gun," Biden said on Friday, speaking of Newtown gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, who used weapons purchased by his mother to carry out the attack on an elementary school in the Connecticut town.
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Lanza killed his mother — Nancy, a gun enthusiast — at their home on Dec. 14 before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he fatally shot 20 children and six adults.
“We know that there is no silver bullet, no seat belt,” Biden said before heading into a Friday meeting with representatives of the video game industry, the Associated Press reports.
Technology for so-called "smart guns" is being developed, although, so far there has been little demand for it. Various techniques such as fingerprint recognition or the wearing of a magnetic ring would prevent anyone other than a weapon's registered owner from firing it.
The National Rifle Association and other groups have come out against smart guns in the past and did not respond to a New York Times article on the subject this week.
Instead, the NRA has placed most the blame for recent mass shootings on violent video games and lack of treatment for the mentally ill.
Participants at Biden's Friday meeting included John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, producer of the “Medal of Honor” franchise; Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association — and a representative of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
The industry defended its practices — contending that violent crime, particularly among young people, has fallen since the early 1990s, while video games have increased in popularity.
Cheryl Olson, a Boston-area researcher who led a groundbreaking two-year, $1.5 million research study on the effect of violent video games, who was at the session, said industry representatives were concerned about becoming a scapegoat in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.
"The vice president made clear that he did not want to do that," Olson told the Associated Press.
Studies vary on the effect of video games and other screen violence. Some conclude that such media can desensitize people to real-world violence or temporarily quiet part of the brain that governs impulse control. Other studies have concluded that no lasting effect exists.
For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared in a 2009 report, "The evidence is now clear and convincing: Media violence is one of the causal factors of real-life violence and aggression."
The report focused on all types of media violence, the Associated Press reports. But for video games in particular, the pediatricians cited studies that found high exposure to violent ones increased physical aggression in the short term, and warned that they allow people to rehearse violent acts.
On the other hand, the pediatricians’ group said friendly video games could promote good behavior.
"I come to this meeting with no judgment,” Biden said at the start of Friday’s two-hour meeting. “You all know the judgments other people have made. We're looking for help."
The video games session was the latest in a series of meetings that began on Wednesday with interested parties in the gun debate as the vice president prepares the administration's response to the Connecticut shootings.
Biden plans to have his recommendations to Obama by Tuesday.
The Friday session followed a tense Thursday afternoon meeting with six guns-rights groups including the NRA which denounced the meeting as a strategy session on how to thwart the Second Amendment.
“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 gun group said in a statement.
“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, hard-working Americans.”
Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist who attended the meeting, on Friday described it to Fox News as “a dog and pony show.”
“It became very clear, very early that they weren’t looking to hear from gun owners, they were looking to blame gun owners,” Cox said.
NRA President David Keene said later Thursday that the association would not negotiate with the White House any on gun issues — and then told NBC News on Friday that the NRA had enough support in Congress to block any assault-weapons legislation.
“I do not think that there's going to be a ban on so-called assault weapons passed by the Congress,” Keene told the “Today” program.
It is this defiance by the NRA, some participants in this week’s meetings say, that has led President Obama to resort to his battle-tested strategy to circumvent the nation’s largest gun-rights organization: projecting strength on an issue by trying to create the perception that the administration is riding the crest of support from the American people.
The president successfully utilized the approach during his two White House campaigns and during the recent fiscal cliff negotiations, Politico reports.
Throughout the week, the vice president met with a wide array of groups — from faith groups to hunters' organizations to victim-rights advocates to foundations to civic associations — even Wal-Mart, Comcast, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and the Motion Picture Association of America.
By the time Biden sat down with gun representatives on Thursday afternoon, he said that the consensus was growing for background checks for gun buyers at public shows and for banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“There is an emerging set of recommendations — not coming from me, but coming from the groups we’ve met,” Biden said earlier on Thursday. “I have a real tight window to do this. The public wants us to act.”
Biden told them that he and other administration officials, as they met with gun-control advocates and representatives of victims, repeatedly heard about the need for “near universal background checks” in firearms transactions, greater freedom for federal agencies to conduct research about gun crimes, and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines.
"There is a surprising — so far — a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks, not just close the gun show loophole but totally universal background checks including private sales," Biden said.
Biden told the gun groups that Obama would seek a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He plans to push for the measures in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, the Associated Press reports.
“The vice president said, ‘I’m the vice president, not the president, and the president has already made his decisions about assault weapons and magazines,’ ” Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, told Politico.
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And Biden played the purported groundswell of public support heavily in the meeting, too, Feldman said. The vice president told the gun groups that they would be wise to sign on to Obama’s efforts to avoid public wrath.
“He was really pushing us all to get with his program,” Feldman told Politico. “He said that the public wants something done.
“His argument was all these other groups he’s met with, the Pentecostals and evangelicals and others, all of a sudden there is a different attitude,” Feldman added. “The implication is they are more amenable now with going along, and so should you.”
A former lobbyist for gun manufacturers, Feldman now favors some middle ground on the issue, including the required background checks for gun-show purchases.
To get any new legislation passed, the administration will need as many new allies in the fight as possible — especially faith leaders, Politico reports.
“The vice president shared how he felt this was one of the most important meetings of all the meetings, that the faith leaders, the faith community has a very unique role in engaging in the moral persuasion necessary to address the gun challenges in our country,” the Rev. Michael McBride, who was among a dozen leaders who met with Biden on Wednesday, said.
McBride is a community organizer for the PICO Network, an alliance of faith-based organizations based in Oakland, Calif. He said Biden specifically asked the religious leaders to preach to their congregations about the importance of stronger gun laws.
“He called upon us to take that seriously and that the administration and everyone involved is going to be looking to us to help to make that argument across the different faith traditions,” McBride told Politico.
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