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January 11, 2013

Biden seeks video game industry input on guns

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Looking for broader remedies to gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden is reaching out to the video game industry for ideas as the White House seeks to assemble proposals in response to last month’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.

Biden is scheduled to meet with video game representatives Friday as the White House explores cultural factors that may contribute to violent behavior.

The vice president, who is leading a task force that will present recommendations to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, met with other representatives from the entertainment industry, including Comcast Corp. and the Motion Picture Association of America, on Thursday.

Friday’s meeting comes a day after the National Rifle Association rejected Obama administration proposals to limit high-capacity ammunition magazines and dug in on its opposition to an assault weapons ban, which Obama has previously said he will propose to Congress. The NRA was one of the pro-gun rights groups that met with Biden during the day.

NRA president David Keene, asked Friday if the NRA has enough support in Congress to fend off legislation to ban sales of assault weapons, indicated it does. “I do not think that there’s going to be a ban on so-called assault weapons passed by the Congress,” he said on NBC’s “Today.”

In previewing the meeting with the video game industry, Biden recalled how the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York lamented during crime bill negotiations in the 1980s that the country was “defining deviancy down.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, the administration is prepared to recommend on how to address the depiction of violence in the media.

White House press secretary Jay Carney last month suggested that not all measures require government intervention.

“It is certainly the case that we in Washington have the potential, anyway, to help elevate issues that are of concern, elevate issues that contribute to the scourge of gun violence in this country, and that has been the case in the past, and it certainly could be in the future,” Carney said then.

In a statement, a half dozen entertainment groups, including the Motion Picture Association of America, said they “look forward to doing our part to seek meaningful solutions.”

On gun control, however, the Obama administration is assembling proposals to curb gun violence that would include a ban on sales of assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers.

“The vice president made it clear, made it explicitly clear, that the president had already made up his mind on those issues,” Keene said after the meeting. “We made it clear that we disagree with them.”

Opposition from the well-funded and politically powerful NRA underscores the challenges that await the White House if it seeks congressional approval for limiting guns and ammunition. Obama can use his executive powers to act alone on some gun measures, but his options on the proposals opposed by the NRA are limited without Congress’ cooperation.

Obama has pushed reducing gun violence to the top of his domestic agenda following last month’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman slaughtered 20 children and six adults before killing himself. The president put Biden in charge of an administration task force and set a late January deadline for proposals.

“I committed to him I’d have these recommendations to him by Tuesday,” Biden said Thursday, during a separate White House meeting with sportsmen and wildlife groups. “It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the discussion, but the public wants us to act.”

The vice president later met privately with the NRA and other gun-owner groups for more than 90 minutes. Participants in the meeting described it as an open and frank discussion, but one that yielded little movement from either side on long-held positions.

Keene told NBC there is a fundamental disagreement over what would actually make a difference in curbing gun violence.

Richard Feldman, the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, said all were in agreement on a need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But when the conversation turned to broad restrictions on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, Feldman said Biden suggested the president had already made up his mind to seek a ban.

“Is there wiggle room and give?” Feldman said. “I don’t know.”

White House officials said the vice president didn’t expect to win over the NRA and other gun groups on those key issues. But the administration was hoping to soften their opposition in order to rally support from pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Biden’s proposals are also expected to include recommendations to address mental health care and violence on television, in movies and video games. Those issues have wide support from gun-rights groups and pro-gun lawmakers.

As the meetings took place in Washington, a student was shot and wounded at a rural California high school and another student was taken into custody.

During his meeting with sporting and wildlife groups, Biden said that while no recommendations would eliminate all future shootings, “there has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability that our children are at risk in their schools and diminish the probability that firearms will be used in violent behavior in our society.”

Several Cabinet members have also taken on an active role in Biden’s gun violence task force, including Attorney General Eric Holder. He met Thursday with Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest firearms seller, along with other retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The president hopes to announce his administration’s next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term. He has pledged to push for new measures in his State of the Union address.

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