The White House decided not to let reporters witness the historic meeting taking place this afternoon between Vice President Joe Biden and James Jay Baker, the top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. The two men have been fighting each other on legislation since the early 1990s, when Biden helped enact a crime bill that included a ban on certain types of assault weapons. Biden has been tangling with the NRA since the 1980s, when his effort to outlaw certain types of armor-piercing, so-called “cop killer” bullets, ran up against NRA opposition.
But Biden did give reporters something to chew on, by dropping big hints about the big things he is going to recommend on gun control. “There is an emerging set of recommendations not coming from me, but coming from the groups we have met with,” Biden said, before a meeting with hunting group leaders this morning. Then he listed three areas of gun control that the NRA has long opposed: Extending background checks to cover all gun purchases, limiting access to high capacity magazines for guns, and allowing federal agencies to collect data on gun sales and the weapons used in crime, information collection that has been blocked for nearly a decade by Congress.
“There has got to be some common ground to not solve every problem but diminish the probability that what we have seen in these mass shootings will occur, and diminish the probability that our children are at risk in our schools, and diminish the probability that weapons will be used and firearms will be used in dealing with aberrant behavior that takes place in our society,” Biden said, while reporters were in the room.
That common ground does not exist right now in the U.S. Congress, where House Republicans have made clear their opposition to expanding background checks, limiting high capacity magazines and where many members voted just a few years ago to bar the collection of information that Biden now suggests collecting.
That suggests there is a clear fight ahead. But then this is not exactly news. In announcing the task force, President Obama clearly suggested the direction he expected to head:
The good news is there’s already a growing consensus for us to build from. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all. I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner.
Interestingly, Biden made no mention today of the assault weapons ban, but there is no sign that he has taken the matter off the table. What is clear is that the recommendations he delivers next week to the President will be the beginning, the White House hopes, of a much larger consensus-building process in Washington, where for nearly two decades gun control advocates have had little success.