Sunday 15 December 2019

Biden task force will urge gun buyer background checks

Steve Holland

US Vice President Joe Biden said his task force on reducing gun violence is likely to recommend background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips as part of a plan to be given to President Barack Obama by next Tuesday.

Biden on Thursday met with a representative of the powerful National Rifle Association gun rights lobby group for about an hour and a half. Before that meeting, Biden said there is only a "tight window" for action to reduce firearms violence.

"There's an emerging set of recommendations not coming from me, but coming from the groups we've met with," Biden said at a meeting with hunting and outdoor sports groups, adding that Obama will get the task force's recommendations by Tuesday.

US Attorney General Eric Holder held talks on Thursday with major retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the largest U.S. gun seller, as well as Bass Pro Shops and Dick's Sporting Goods.

The Biden task force is trying to reach a consensus quickly while there is still a mood for action in Congress following the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut last month.

Biden said two of his task force's recommendations were likely to be universal background checks for gun purchasers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips like the ones used in the Connecticut massacre.

The universal background check requirement would extend to all gun purchasers, Biden said. This would close the so-called "gun show loophole" in which vendors at open-air gun sales events can sell without a background check on the purchaser. It would also extend to private sales such as those conducted over the Internet.

The task force might also propose a ban on assault weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle used by the gunman in the Newtown elementary school shooting.

Obama will review the ideas, decide which ones he wants to keep and then announce "a package of actions and proposals," the White House said. Obama will seek legislative action by Congress but may also try to get some of his objectives done through presidential executive orders.

U.S. lawmakers have not approved a major new gun law since 1994. A U.S. assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004.

The Biden group is grappling with elements that go beyond gun control measures, looking into aspects of American popular culture. Talks were expected later on Thursday with representatives of the movie industry, whose films routinely feature gun violence.

Before delivering its recommendations, the task force also is due to hear from the video game industry, whose products also contain frequent gun violence.

"There is nothing that has pricked the consciousness of the American people (and) there is nothing that has gone to the heart of the matter more than the image people have of little 6-year-old kids riddled - not shot, but riddled, riddled - with bullet holes in their classroom," Biden said.

More than a hundred scientists from virtually every major U.S. university told Biden's task force in a letter on Thursday that research restrictions pushed by the NRA have stopped the United States from finding solutions to gun violence.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cut gun safety research by 96 percent since the mid-1990s, according to one estimate. Congress, pushed by the gun lobby, in 1996 put restrictions on CDC funding of gun research. Restrictions on other agencies were added in later years.

Biden said he would like federal agencies to have the ability to get information on what kind of weapons are used most to kill people and what kind of weapons are the most trafficked.

"I'm no great hunter - it's mostly skeet shooting for me - I don't quite understand why everybody would be afraid of whether or not we determine what is happening," he said.

While some journalists were allowed in for part of Biden's meeting with hunting groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, there was no such news coverage planned for the Biden talks with the NRA, perhaps the most sensitive meeting of the series he is conducting.

The NRA proposed after the Newtown massacre that armed security officers be stationed at schools.

Asked what he would be telling the NRA, Biden offered no specifics, saying he would raise the same issues he brought up with the hunting groups.


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