Saturday, February 17, 2018

Biden hastens gun control plans

WASHINGTON — Moving quickly, Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he will urge President Barack Obama to pursue new gun controls as the first, best way to curb gun violence.

Biden said his White House task force will submit its recommendations to Obama by Tuesday, a list that will include improving background checks on gun buyers, promoting gun safety and limiting high-capacity magazines.

He said that his efforts are not an attempt to be comprehensive but that he wants to act quickly in the wake of a national outcry after a mass shooting in Connecticut last month that left 27 people and the shooter dead.

"I have a real, very tight window to do this," Biden said. "It doesn't mean that this will be the end of the discussion, but the public wants us to act."

Obama charged Biden to lead a task force that would examine gun control, mental health services and violence in the media and video games.

The administration will consider executive actions, which do not require congressional approval, as well as legislation that most likely would be difficult to pass through a divided Congress.

Biden's back-to-back meetings with gun rights groups Thursday underscored the strong opposition facing the Obama administration. He met with the powerful gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association, as well as sporting groups, wildlife interest groups and representatives from the entertainment industry.

In a statement Thursday, the NRA, which has suggested posting armed guards in every school, said it was "disappointed" with a meeting that it says was designed to attack the Second Amendment.

"While claiming that no policy proposals would be 'prejudged,' this task force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners — honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans," the group said. "It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen."

Biden, who described himself as "an owner of shotguns," disputed the accusation.

"I'm not sure we can guarantee this will never happen again, but as the president said, even if we can only save one life it would make sense," he said. "And I think we can do a great deal without in any way imposing on and impinging on the rights of the Second Amendment."

The administration also may consider a $50 million plan to fund hundreds of police officers in public schools, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told the Washington Post.

The school safety initiative would make federal dollars available to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment.

Boxer said that she presented the plan to Biden and that he was "very, very interested" and may include it in his recommendations to the president.

"If a school district wants to have a community policing presence, I think it's very important they have it," Boxer said in an interview Thursday. "If they want uniformed officers, they can do it. If they want plainclothes officers, they can do it."

Over three weeks, Biden and other administration officials spoke to crime victims, gun control groups, religious leaders, law enforcement organizations, the medical community and child advocacy groups. He said he still wants to speak to gun manufacturers.

The vice president did not mention proposals Thursday that address violent images or expanding mental health services, though they may be included in his final list of recommendations.

Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he urged the Obama administration this week to develop early identification and intervention strategies and access to treatment.

"The task force's recommendation must include mental health care," Fitzpatrick said. "No one solution can eliminate violence in America, but saving lives includes saving the lives of individuals and family members who struggle with mental illness every day."

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