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Assault weapons ban remains politically tricky for White House


As the White House considers proposals to curb gun violence, a potential re-upping of the 1990s ban on assault weapons has emerged as the most politically difficult measure for activists hoping to keep the most dangerous weapons out of criminal hands.

But, after pro-gun groups met with Vice President Joe Biden's task force on violence prevention yesterday, at least one participant came away believing that it's a fight that President Barack Obama is willing to try.

Richard Feldman, the president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association said that Biden left the group with the “clear implication” that the president would pursue an assault weapons ban in addition to other regulatory measures. 

In naming possible new regulations this week, Biden mentioned universal background checks and restrictions on high-capacity magazines but did not refer specifically to an assault weapon moratorium. The president and his spokespeople have said repeatedly that the administration is in favor of an assault weapons ban.

White House officials say Vice President Joe Biden has offered to speak with families impacted by the Newtown tragedy for their input as he negotiates solutions to gun violence in the U.S. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Feldman told NBC News said the conversation in the closed-door meeting with gun rights groups was “wide ranging."

“We certainly talked rather extensively about civil commitment laws," he said. "The Attorney General was in the meeting. We talked about enforcement procedures against violations.”

Feldman’s take on the session seemed to be different than the National Rifle Association’s, which came out with a fairly combative statement late in the day indicating that the White House was not open to hearing the concerns of Second Amendment proponents.

“I think that it was a conversation and it wasn't a lecture,” Feldman countered. 

When asked about the NRA’s characterization of the meeting, Feldman praised NRA advocate Jim Baker for forcefully voicing the concerns of the nation's most powerful gun group.

"I think the vice president, who knows Jim, listened to them," he added. "But you know, we come at this from different positions.”

The NRA has stated that they’re going to take their argument up to Capitol Hill, something that some experts say could be part of a two-path approach for the gun rights group.

“My guess is what we're going to see is a kind of two-layer game," said Don Kettl, dean of the Public Policy School at the University of Maryland. "For the NRA itself, they've made very clear so far that they're just not interested in anything that remotely involves any effort to try to reduce the availability of guns, or ammunition or any of the other pieces or anything that would restrict the ownership of guns. But behind the scenes I suspect they and some of their lobbyists are going to be working very carefully to try to find ways of at least minimizing, from their point of view, the damage.”

Kettl thinks this could be a defining moment for the group, “Deep down this is one of those line-in-the-sand kind of issues that will be the make or break for the NRA's power. And I suspect we are in the middle of a defining debate in the pubic right now about the role of guns in American society.”