President Barack Obama will consider using executive orders among the steps to curb gun violence following last month’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, Vice President Joe Biden said.
“The president and I are determined to take action,” Biden said at the start of a meeting with gun-control advocates and groups representing victims.
“We haven't decided what that is yet,” Biden told the Weekly Standard. “But we're compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action that we believe is required."
Biden called it a moral issue, adding that "it's critically important that we act."
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Today’s session of an administration panel led by Biden was the first of two scheduled this week. A meeting tomorrow will include representatives from the National Rifle Association, which opposes new restrictions on firearms, and retailer Wal- Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)
Obama gave Biden an end-of-the-month deadline to come up with recommendations for measures to stem deaths and injuries from firearms in the U.S. Since the Dec. 14 shootings at the Newtown, Connecticut, school that killed 20 children and six adults, advocates of more restrictions on firearms have revived long-stalled efforts to push for legislation to regulate or restrict access to firearms.
Biden’s group will review options such as reinstating a ban on military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004, closing loopholes that allow gun buyers to escape background checks and limiting use of high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Beyond firearms restrictions, Biden has said the panel will examine ways to boost mental-health programs in schools and steps to alter a culture in the U.S. that glamorizes guns and violence.
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 steps could be taken through executive action, without the approval of Congress, though White House officials say Obama will not finalize any actions until receiving Biden's recommendations. The deadline is Jan. 31.
As far as Congress is concerned, the Senate’s top Republican has warned that it could be spring before any gun legislation could be considered.
"The biggest problem we have at the moment is spending and debt," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on Sunday, the Associated Press reports. "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."
Wal-Mart’s attendance tomorrow at the meeting may signal the building pressure for a response. David Tovar, the company’s spokesman, said earlier today that Wal-Mart officials had talked with Biden’s staff and wouldn’t attend the session in Washington because executives were in meetings at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, reversed course shortly afterward.
“We underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person, so we are sending an appropriate representative to participate,” Tovar said in a statement. “We take this issue very seriously and are committed staying engaged in this discussion as the administration and Congress work toward a consensus on the right path forward.”
Wal-Mart sells firearms in 1,800 of its more than 3,800 U.S. stores, according to the company. Tovar’s statement said the company has been in discussions with the administration, members of Congress and gun control advocates “about the responsible sale and regulation of firearms.”
The NRA claims 4 million members and spent $13 million trying to stop President Barack Obama’s re-election last year. Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman, didn’t respond to requests by telephone and e-mail for comment on the meeting with Biden.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, has proposed a measure requiring background checks for anyone buying large quantities of ammunition.
“There is no rational reason why a person can walk into a store, fill their shopping cart with hundreds of rounds of ammo, pay up, and walk out without so much as giving their name,” Blumenthal said on a conference call with reporters yesterday.
Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six persons, said she and her husband, Mark Kelly, were forming a political action committee to push for new gun laws.
Steve and Amber Mostyn, Texas trial attorneys, said today they are giving $1 million to help get the PAC get started.
Steve Mostyn, one of the top contributors to a super political action committee that backed Obama’s re-election bid, is listed as treasurer of Giffords’s organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Mostyn said the group will have a nonprofit wing, which will be used to conduct a public education campaign and that he’ll promote it to other Democratic Party donors as a counterweight to the NRA.
“It’s time to stop the NRA from bullying common sense out of the discussion,” he said in an interview.
Federal Election Commission records show that the NRA’s Political Victory Fund spent $16 million in the two years leading to the Nov. 6 election. An NRA nonprofit affiliate, the Institute for Legislative Action, made another $7.5 million in independent expenditures such as direct mail and ads, to help NRA-friendly candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, based in Washington.
As gun-control advocates step up pressure for new laws, a coalition of gun-rights groups is pushing back with a nationwide protest scheduled for Jan. 19, a day before Obama will be sworn in for a second term. The groups are urging gun-rights supporters to show up at firearms stores, gun shows and shooting ranges that day.
About 85 Americans are fatally shot daily -- 53 of them suicides, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, restrictions on firearms have faced resistance in Congress for decades.
Currently, lawmakers are studying 10 gun-control bills submitted in the House last week.
One potentially game-changing plan is California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reported upcoming push for a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines — and the creation of a national gun registry.
Another is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for more restrictive state gun laws, despite the Empire State having one of the nation’s toughest assault-weapon bans already in place.
“I think what the nation is saying now after Connecticut, what people in New York are saying is ‘Do something, please,’” Cuomo said, according to The New York Times.
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But firearms advocates are not taking the proposed bans — or any effort to restrict gun owners — lying down.
In Arizona, for instance, a lawyer for two gun dealers argued in U.S. District Court on Wednesday that the Obama administration’s move to halt the flow of U.S. guns to Mexican drug gangs overstepped its legal authority by requiring dealers in Southwestern border states to report when customers buy multiple high-powered rifles.
Attorney Richard Gardiner told an appeals court panel that the directive requires gun dealers to create a records system — and that the government had no authority to do that, the Associated Press reports.
At issue is a requirement that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives imposed in 2011 on gun sellers in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
The requirement, issued in what is known as a demand letter, compels those sellers to report to the ATF when anyone buys — within a five-day period — two or more semi-automatic weapons capable of accepting a detachable magazine and with a caliber greater than .22.
The ATF says the requirement is needed to help stop the flow of guns to Mexican drug cartels.
Such weapons were at issue in the Justice Department’s botched Fast and Furious gun-running scheme that has been linked to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Under the bungled ATF operation, more than 2,000 weapons — including giant .50-caliber guns — fell into the hands of Mexican drug cartels and other criminals.
Most of the weapons have never been recovered.
Gardiner — representing J&G Sales, Ltd., of Prescott, Ariz., and Foothills Firearms, LLC, of Yuma, Ariz. — told the appeals court panel that the requirement was so broad it covered rifles for everything from target practice to hunting wolves, deer or bear, or even smaller game.
Justice Department lawyer Michael Raab contended that sellers should be able to determine by the manufacturer and model number if a particular rifle is covered by the requirement.
The appeals court panel is expected to rule in the case soon.
Outside the courtroom, however, many more immediate efforts are underway to oppose any government crackdown on firearms.
A coalition of pro-gun groups is staging a nationwide "Gun Appreciation Day" for Jan. 19, two days before President Obama’s second inauguration.
The group is urging supporters to flood gun stores and rifle ranges and to consider purchasing even more weapons.
“We have never had a president who so callously disregards the Constitution, Congress, the courts and the will of the American people,” Larry Ward, chairman of the event, told Politico.
Gun advocates have also started promoting a series of “Friends of NRA’’ dinners across the country.
“There's plenty to do in our effort to support and advance this country's proud shooting sports traditions,’’ says one dispatch on NRAblog.com .
“[The banquets are] a gathering of like-minded friends, neighbors, family members and more for a night [of] food, festivities and frivolity.’’
In addition, Soldier of Fortune magazine, under the headline “Exploiting Newtown,” is imploring its readers to oppose from “14 to 20 … anti-Second Amendment bills’’ it expects will be introduced in the 2013 Colorado Legislature:
“Published reports indicate that rabid, anti-gun, millionaire, New York City Mayor Bloomberg is sending a well-funded team to Colorado to push gun control,’’ the magazine says.
“Contact your State Senator and State Representative twice a month, starting now … Be polite, but firm.’’
As both sides prepared for a showdown, the Board of Education that governs Sandy Hook Elementary School met for the first time since the December violence.
They discussed security and how students and parents could be made to feel safe, the Litchfield County Times said.
“Our students have not been going out for recess ... because of the anxiety of this thing,” Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said.
The school is being guarded by two armed police officers for an “indefinite’’ period.
The Litchfield newspaper quoted one parent, Michelle Hankin, as telling the board, “Going forward, I think that people want to see permanent police presence at the schools. It’s a new world in which we live.’’
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Information from Bloomberg News, The Associated Press were used to supplement this report
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