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Biden Vows Action on Guns as Wal-Mart, NRA Join in Talks

By Lisa Lerer and Julie Bykowicz
January 10, 2013 1:22 PM EST 289 Comments
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Vice President Joe Biden in an effort to break the impasse, while staffers worked into the night trading and reviewing offers. The two made progress, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
Photographer: Scott Olsen/Bloomberg
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Vice President Joe Biden in an effort to break the impasse, while staffers worked into the night trading and reviewing offers. The two made progress, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The Obama administration and its allies are intensifying their push to curb gun violence, promising to impose new restrictions and invest millions of dollars in combating the power of the National Rifle Association.

Vice President Joe Biden said the administration will consider using executive orders to place limitations on access to firearms following last month’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school. He vowed to give recommendations to President Barack Obama by Jan. 15.

“I have a real tight window to do this,” Biden said today as he started a meeting with groups representing hunters and wildlife organizations. “The public wants us to act.”

The administration said it would hold four separate gatherings today as part of an effort to build support for policy proposals following the Dec. 14 massacre that killed 20 children and 6 adults at the Connecticut school.

Biden said a consensus is emerging among various interest groups to tighten background checks, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and improve gun-safety measures.

Along with outdoors groups, the sessions include representatives of gun owners and manufacturers, such as the NRA and the Independent Firearm Owners Association, the entertainment industry, and retailers Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the world’s biggest, and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS), the largest U.S. sporting goods chain, which suspended sales of some rifles after the Connecticut shootings.

Holder Meets

Biden’s first meeting this morning was with groups such as Ducks Unlimited and the Outdoor Industry Association. He’s scheduled to meet with the gun groups this afternoon and the entertainment industry, including Comcast Corp. and the Motion Picture Association of America, this evening. Attorney General Eric Holder is leading the retailers’ meeting.

Since the shooting, advocates of more restrictions have revived long-stalled efforts to push for legislation to regulate or limit access to guns.

“Every once in a while there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career,” Biden, 70, said yesterday.

As legislative fixes percolate, outside groups are laying the groundwork to fight the NRA, which claims more than 4 million members and spent at least $20 million advocating for the election of pro-gun federal candidates last year.

Funding Effort

Steve and Amber Mostyn, wealthy Texas trial attorneys, said yesterday they are giving $1 million to help a gun-control advocacy group formed by former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords was critically wounded in a 2011 shooting by a gunman in Tucson who killed six other people.

Steve Mostyn, one of the top contributors to a super- political action committee that assisted in Obama’s re-election effort, is listed as treasurer of Giffords’s new super-PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions. Mostyn said the group will have a nonprofit wing, which will be used to conduct a public education campaign.

The super-PAC’s main goal is to counter the gun lobby’s political contributions, Mostyn said, which is how he’s pitching it to other big Democratic donors as he asks them to write six- figure checks.

“It’s time to stop the NRA from bullying common sense out of the discussion,” he said in an interview. “There are more options than just ‘guns or no guns.’”

Super-PAC

Mostyn, 41 and a resident of Houston, said he owns many guns and has a shooting range at his ranch in west Texas. A longtime donor to Texas candidates and political causes, he and his wife gave more than $5 million last year to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action and to House Majority, a super-PAC that backed Democratic congressional candidates.

“I understand their ability to get things done,” Mostyn said of outside groups.

The NRA has rejected any new limits on gun ownership, proposing instead that the government put armed guards in U.S. schools to protect students. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the group, didn’t return e-mails or calls yesterday requesting comment.

Almost one month after the tragedy in Newtown, the challenges facing the administration are sharpening. Gun-rights advocates are pushing back against proposed rules as Republicans warn that it could be months before Congress takes up legislation.

Other Priorities

“The biggest problem we have at the moment is spending and debt,” Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said in a Jan. 6 interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “That’s going to dominate the Congress between now and the end of March.”

A coalition of gun-rights groups has planned a nationwide action 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.

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.

“It’s not just a gun-control problem,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday. “It goes beyond that.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net; Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net; Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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