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November 26, 2014

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Biden voices interest in new technology for guns

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Susan Walsh / AP

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with representatives from the video game industry in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. Biden is holding a series of meetings this week as part of the effort he is leading to develop policy proposals in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

WASHINGTON — Looking for broader remedies to gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden expressed interest Friday in existing technology that would keep a gun from being fired by anyone other than the purchaser. He said evidence shows such technology may have affected events in Connecticut last month when 20 youngsters and six teachers were gunned down inside their elementary school.

"Had the young man not had access to his mother's arsenal, he may or may not have been able to get a gun," said Biden, speaking of the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who used weapons purchased by his mother to carry out the attack.

Biden said the technology exists but is expensive.

The vice president spoke during a portion of a meeting with video game industry representatives that was open to media coverage. It was the latest in a series of meetings he's held with interested parties on both sides of the issue as he finalizes the administration's response to the Connecticut shooting.

Biden said he hopes to send recommendations to President Barack Obama by Tuesday.

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

NRA President David Keene, asked Friday if his group 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 awaiting 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 the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman slaughtered 26 children and 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 on Thursday. Another student was taken into custody.

During the 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. Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attended Friday's meeting with the video game industry.

Obama hopes to announce his administration's next steps 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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