(Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - The National Rifle Association took aim Thursday at the White House task force on gun violence led by Vice President Biden, suggesting that the Obama administration is focused on imposing unnecessary restrictions on lawful gun owners in the aftermath of last month's shooting tragedy in Connecticut.
The powerful gun rights organization's sharp rebuke followed a meeting with Biden and gun-owners groups to discuss the White House's response to recent mass shootings. The vice president and other top administration officials have been meeting with various stakeholders in the gun debate in an effort to generate a broad proposal on steps to curb gun violence.
"We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment," the NRA said in a statement following the 45-minute meeting on White House grounds. "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."
Biden, who was tapped to lead the task force after the Dec. 14 mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, said he plans to deliver his recommendations to President Obama by Tuesday, and suggested Thursday that his proposal may include instituting universal background checks and limiting the size of high-capacity magazines.
Biden said that his proposal might also bolster the ability of the federal government to research gun violence, suggesting he may look for a way to relax rules that prohibit the release of information from the ATF firearms-trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation
"There is a surprising, so far, recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks," Biden said. He added, "Among ... my former colleagues in the Senate, who have been pretty universally opposed to any restrictions on gun ownership or what type of weapons can be purchased, etc., I have never quite heard as much talk about the need to do something about high-capacity magazines as I have heard spontaneously from every group I have met with so far."
The vice president, notably, did not mention re-instituting the assault-weapons ban which expired in 2004, a move backed by several Democratic lawmakers and Obama. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll published last month following the Connecticut shooting found 51% of respondents oppose an assault weapons ban, while 44% support reinstating the ban.
Biden, along with Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, were also meeting with entertainment industry executives Thursday, and a separately with some of the nation's top gun sellers, including the megaretailer Wal-Mart, to discuss the issue.
Biden has said that he may recommend Obama use presidential "executive order" power as part of the effort to stem gun violence. Gun-control advocates said that the president could take several steps without congressional action, including bolstering the national instant criminal-background-check system and stepping up prosecutions of felons and others prohibited from buying weapons when they try to purchase them.
Biden is also hoping to solicit the input of gun manufacturers before making his recommendations.
"There has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability" of mass shootings, he said. "That's what this is all about. There are no conclusions I have reached."
The NRA had set low expectations for the meeting, but the sharpness of its rebuke was notable.
"We will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works - and what does not," the group said.
The NRA instead is pushing for the federal government to implement a program to put armed guards in every school in the country.
The Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group, has long complained that cops in schools actually make safety worse for many kids, making it more likely that they'll end up in trouble with the law.