By Aaron Blake
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s relationship over the years with the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been marked by antagonism — particularly given Biden’s central role in passing the 1994 crime bill that codified the first federal assault weapons ban. Biden has also routinely earned an “F” rating from the group.
In the midst of the antagonism have been a few instances when the two have worked together — or at least tried to — and some attempts by Biden to connect with gun owners.
Here’s a look at the interactions between the two over the years:
The NRA fought tooth and nail against passage of the 1994 crime bill, which Biden authored, because of its ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
Biden had been working on the bill for six years when it stalled in the House, and he repeatedly blamed the NRA during that period for holding it up.
“I have underestimated every year the power of the NRA. I must acknowledge that,” Biden told NPR in 1994. “For six years, the NRA, in conjunction with our Republican colleagues and a few of our Democratic friends, have blocked the passage of tough crime legislation.”
Four years earlier, in the early stages of the same debate, the NRA accused Biden of trying pass an “underhanded gun ban.”
“Sen. Biden is camouflaging (Michael) Dukakis’ gun ban ideas under the rhetoric of President (George H.W.) Bush’s popular crime-fighting ideas, so he can push through a federal gun ban before you and I can stop him,” an NRA letter said, according to the Portland Oregonian.
The NRA also ran ads at the time featuring NRA activist and actor Charlton Heston saying the crime bill, which aimed to put 100,000 more police officers on the streets, would cost $70,000 per officer and thus fall short of the 100,000 goal.
Biden took issue with the figure and attacked Heston, according to the Los Angeles Times: “I do not know how many of you hire your cops back home for $70,000 a year. I guess he is just used to being in Hollywood, where they pay a lot of money for those things.”
Eventually, Biden did play some ball with the NRA, offering an amendment to the crime bill that would exempt current owners of high-capacity clips from prosecution after the ban was enacted.
The amendment was drafted by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a pro-gun Democrat who subsequently resigned from the NRA’s board, and the bill passed in the House — which had been the major stumbling block in the process.
Biden wasn’t done hitting the NRA, though. In 1995, when the NRA defended gun rights by referring to people’s need to protect themselves against “jack-booted government thugs,” Biden responded by saying the NRA’s rhetoric probably cost it two members for every member it gained.
In 1996, Biden criticized the NRA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for their objections to an anti-terrorism bill that included expanded wiretaps and FBI access to financial records.
“They’re a minority, no matter how you add it up,” he said of the NRA and the ACLU, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He offered similar thoughts during a 1996 appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” going after another gun group, the Gun Owners of America, for opposing wiretaps.
“The reason is because of the militia groups. The reason is because of the Gun Owners of America. The reason is because of this mentality out there, the small group of people in America who think that the government is the enemy, it is the sworn enemy,” Biden said.
Much earlier in Biden’s tenure, some harsh words were exchanged during the crafting of another crime bill in 1984.
Biden brought the NRA to the table when he headed up an effort to ban armor-piercing, so-called “cop-killer” bullets. He later accused the group of crafting the proposal and then lobbying senators to vote against it.
“We feel double-crossed,” Biden said, according to UPI. “It appears as though we’ve been stuck.”
More recently, Biden offended gun rights activists at a 2007 Democratic presidential debate. In response a questioner who had submitted a YouTube video of himself holding an assault rifle, which he’d described as “my baby,” Biden suggested the man might have mental problems.
“I’ll tell you what, if that is his baby, he needs help,” Biden said. “I don’t know that he is mentally qualified to own that gun.”
During the general election campaign, Biden sought to play up his blue collar roots and the fact that he owned guns.
“I guarantee you Barack Obama ain’t taking my shotguns, so don’t buy that malarkey,” Biden said in rural Virginia, according to ABC News. “Don’t buy that malarkey. They’re going to start peddling that to you.”
“I got two,” Biden said. “If he tries to fool with my Beretta, he’s got a problem. . . . Give me a break.”
Later in the campaign, the NRA ran a tough ad in Pennsylvania criticizing Biden’s record on guns: “Joe Biden wants you to believe he shares your values because he was born in Scranton,” the ad says. “But Pennsylvania gun owners and hunters don’t share his values.”
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Cillizza writes The Fix, a politics blog for the Washington Post, and Blake is a frequent contributor to it.
bc-guns 01-09 1155
(wap) (ATTN: National editors)
//White House Hopes Public Campaign Sways Views on Gun Laws//
By Philip Rucker
(c) 2013, The Washington Post.
WASHINGTON — The White House is working with its allies on a well-financed campaign in Washington and around the country to shift public opinion toward stricter gun laws and provide political cover to lawmakers who end up voting for an assault-weapons ban or other restrictions on firearms.
With President Barack Obama preparing to push a legislative agenda aimed at curbing the nation’s gun violence, pillars of his political network, along with independent groups, are raising millions of dollars and mapping out strategies in an attempt to shepherd new regulations through Congress.
But the efforts, designed in large part to counter opposition from the National Rifle Association, face serious political obstacles on Capitol Hill. The NRA spent more than $20 million on federal election campaigns last year, and its lobbying muscle extends from Washington to state capitals around the country.
Most Republicans in the GOP-controlled House also oppose additional gun regulations, as do some key Democrats in the Senate — meaning that the groups aligned with Obama will have to persuade dozens of skeptical lawmakers to vote for the president’s eventual proposals.
The groups, whose leaders are in regular contact with the White House, are working to enlist religious leaders, mayors, police chiefs and other influential constituents to lobby their local lawmakers in their home districts. The organizations also plan to stage rallies at congressional town hall meetings across the country in much the same way tea party activists mounted opposition in 2009 to Obama’s health-care overhaul.
A trial run for the burgeoning campaign came this week when the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence ran hard-hitting ads in North Dakota and Capitol Hill newspapers against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who said Sunday that some of the gun measures Obama is considering are “extreme.” After the ads — which told Heitkamp “Shame on you” — the freshman senator’s office issued a statement opening the door to supporting some gun-control measures.
“You have to get those members of Congress who think the easiest position is to be with the NRA to think that someone will walk up to them in the supermarket and say, ‘Why can’t we just have background checks?’ “ said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank helping to coordinate the effort. “They have to think of these as mainstream issues.”
Other organizations active in the effort include liberal interest groups, labor unions and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is led and financed by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a political independent.
A new political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, was launched this week by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and has picked up seven-figure donations from major Democratic benefactors.
Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Ron Conway, a leading Silicon Valley angel investor, are helping finance the Giffords group and are co-hosting a fundraiser in San Francisco later this week, an organizer said. Two wealthy Texas lawyers, Steve and Amber Mostyn, told news outlets Wednesday that they had given $1 million to the organization. Giffords was shot in the head two years ago in a mass shooting outside a supermarket in Tucson.
“The real challenge that these organizations will have is how much money will they be able to raise in order to effectively communicate their side of the story,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former top congressional aide. “Those who are in favor of keeping the status quo have massive resources that can do the same thing.”
While groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have long lobbied for stricter gun laws, last month’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has spurred many progressive organizations, millionaire donors and other activists to begin focusing on the issue.
An administration working group led by Vice President Joe Biden is preparing a set of gun-control proposals that could be announced by the end of this month, perhaps as part of Obama’s State of the Union address. Lawmakers say Congress could begin considering gun bills in two weeks.
Biden, after a meeting Wednesday with victims of gun violence and leaders of gun-safety organizations,vowed that the administration will take swift action.
“This is a problem that requires immediate attention,” Biden said. “I want to make clear that we’re not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing.”
The White House is considering a wide range of legislative proposals, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks on gun buyers. Biden also said Wednesday that Obama may take executive actions that sidestep Congress, although he did not provide details.
Biden’s comments sparked an immediate and sharp backlash from Republicans. “The Founding Fathers never envisioned Executive Orders being used to restrict our Constitutional rights,” Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said in a statement. “We live in a republic, not a dictatorship.”
Biden’s meetings with interest groups to build consensus will continue Thursday, when he will meet with representatives of the NRA and other gun-owner groups as well as a representative from Wal-Mart, one of the nation’s leading gun retailers. The NRA, which has signaled its opposition to any new gun regulations, has suggested placing armed guards at all of the nation’s schools in reaction to the Connecticut shootings.
Earlier this week, senior White House aides organized a conference call with a roster of private foundations, some of which are funding polls, public education campaigns and other anti-gun-violence initiatives.
One of the groups was the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, a major funder of gun-control programs that counted Obama as a board member from 1994 to 2002. Program director Nina Vinik said research suggests that the public is poorly informed about current gun laws.
“Most people assume that our gun laws are in fact much more expansive and stronger than in fact they are,” Vinik said.
Some of the groups plan to use television and newspaper advertisements to paint laws restricting guns as a mainstream, common-sense idea. Some advocates have also stopped calling their efforts “gun control,” preferring “gun-violence prevention” instead.
One objective is to drive a wedge between the NRA’s policy agenda and the views of a majority of its members, activists said. Mayors Against Illegal Guns commissioned a study last year by Republican pollster Frank Luntz that found that 74 percent of NRA members support requiring criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun.
“This isn’t a battle about going dollar for dollar with the NRA,” said Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president at the Center for American Progress. “It’s about drawing attention to the fact that the NRA officials and lobbyists and the NRA membership are in completely different places. Exposing that gap is a critical component of that effort.”