The National Rifle Association, the strongest pro-gun lobby group in the United States, on Thursday set the stage for a bitter congressional battle over stricter gun controls, accusing vice president Joe Biden of having "an agenda to attack the second amendment".
Emerging from a meeting with Biden's gun control taskforce, representatives of the NRA said the vice president had been too eager to discuss laws clamping down on gun control, and less keen to talk about the non-legislative measures it prefers.
"We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen," an NRA statement said.
The comments are an indication that despite the public revulsion in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting last month, President Barack Obama will face a tough fight to pass stricter gun control measures.
Biden said before his meeting with six gun groups, including the NRA, that suggestions to his taskforce so far had included consistent support for "universal background checks" on gun ownership and an agreement on the "need to do something about high-capacity magazines".
The NRA said it was dismayed by the meeting: "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. It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems."
Biden's taskforce was commissioned in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and seven adults dead. Biden promised to deliver his recommendations by Tuesday, well before the January-end deadline, because of the "tight window" the government has in which to act.
In a press briefing on Thursday, before the meeting, the vice president suggested that in his earlier meetings with gun-safety groups and families of victims of mass shootings there had been widespread support for universal background checks on gun ownership and for a crackdown on high-capacity magazines, which can allow for as many as 100 rounds to be fired without the need to reload. He said the Sandy Hook shootings had spurred action.
"There is nothing that has pricked the consciousness of the American people," he said, "there is nothing that has gone to the heart of the matter more than the visual image people have of little six-year-old kids riddled – not shot with a stray bullet – riddled, riddled, with bullet holes in their classroom."
Just before Biden met the gun lobby representatives, reports emerged of a shooting at Taft Union High School in Kern County, California. One student was critically injured and a suspect was taken into custody.
Speaking in Washington, Biden said there may be an appetite to allow federal research into gun ownership, referring to a need to find out "what kind of weapons are used most to kill people" and "what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons". "The last area is the whole subject of the ability of any federal agency to do research on gun violence," he said.
The NRA has long lobbied against federal funds being spent on research into gun laws and ownership, and Obama's healthcare legislation includes a provision that prevents the government and health insurers from asking about gun ownership, prohibiting the ability for the government to collect data.
The statement from the NRA suggested it would return to lobbying in its bid to deter new gun laws.
"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."
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