WASHINGTON (AP) — Inviting in the opposition, Vice President Joe Biden will meet Thursday with the National Rifle Association, the powerful pro-gun organization that could obstruct White House efforts to pass stricter arms legislation.
Biden, who is leading an administration-wide review of gun safety laws, also will meet Thursday with sportsmen's and wildlife interest groups, as well as with representatives from the entertainment industry. The meetings are part of a week of discussions the vice president is holding as he prepares to present President Barack Obama with recommendations for curbing gun violence.
The effort was spurred by last month's horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed when a gunman stormed an elementary school. Obama has set a late January deadline for Biden's proposals.
The NRA, the nation's largest gun-rights group, has blocked gun-control efforts in the past and is opposing any new ones. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre rejected efforts to tighten gun laws and instead recommended putting armed guards in all schools as a way to stop another school shooting.
LaPierre will not be attending the White House meeting. Instead, the NRA is sending its top lobbyist, James Baker, who has worked with Biden previously on gun issues.
White House officials recognize it is unlikely the NRA will ever fully support measures Obama is pushing, including an assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines. But the administration may need to soften the NRA's opposition if it hopes to rally support from pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Ahead of the NRA meeting, Biden said he wanted to hear from "all parties, on whatever side of this debate you fall."
Groups attending the meetings include Ducks Unlimited, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, as well sa the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Firearms Import/Export Roundtable.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest firearms seller, will meet separately with Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday along with other retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Dick's Sporting Goods.
In a nod to political realities that could imperil sweeping gun-control legislation, Biden said the administration is weighing executive action in addition to recommending legislation by Congress.
Recommendations to the Biden group include making gun-trafficking a felony, getting the Justice Department to prosecute people caught lying on gun background-check forms and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that some 40 percent of gun sales are made without background checks, such as at gun shows and over the Internet.
Representatives from the Brady Campaign joined other victims' groups and gun safety organizations for meetings with Biden on Wednesday. The vice president said the steps the administration is considering could "take thousands of people out of harm's way" and improve the safety of millions more.
"I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing," Biden said. "It's critically important we act."
The Newtown shootings pushed gun control to the top of Obama's domestic agenda for the first time during his presidency. He was largely silent on the hot-button political issue after the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 12 others, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the Colorado movie theater killing of a dozen people and wounding of many more last July.
Biden, referring to the Newtown shootings, said at the White House, "Every once in a while, there's something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I've seen in my career."
The president hopes to announce his administration's next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term and has pledged to push for new measures in his State of the Union address.