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Biden's Gun Violence Recommendations Could Include Expanded Background Checks

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And in this part of the program, what Washington can do to reduce gun violence. Vice President Biden says he'll have his recommendations to the president by Tuesday. He held a second day of meetings on the subject today, conferring with gun rights advocates.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There's an emerging set of recommendations, not coming from me but coming from the groups we've met with. And I'm going to focus on the ones that relate primarily to gun ownership and the type of weapons that can be owned.

BLOCK: Biden says he's looking at a full range of options, from new laws to executive action. It would take an act of Congress to expand background checks to all gun sales, but getting gun legislation enacted is challenging and this has the White House looking for what President Obama could do without Congress. NPR's Ari Shapiro has our first report.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Gun rights groups are hoping that Congress will stop President Obama from imposing any big new regulations. Gun control groups are hoping the president goes rogue. They have a list of things he could do on his own.

MARK GLAZE: We're working hard to get the president to do it and we think he'll do some, at least.

SHAPIRO: Mark Glaze is the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He says there are many ways President Obama can tighten the laws that already exist without seeking new ones. For example, if you try to buy a gun at a firearms store and fail the background check, that's a felony. But Glaze says those people are almost never held to account.

GLAZE: A couple of years ago, 71,000 people were declined when they tried to buy a gun. They committed that felony and only somewhere around 45 were prosecuted.

SHAPIRO: There are also big holes in the existing background check database. It's called NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Winnie Stachelberg is with the Liberal Center for American Progress.

WINNIE STACHELBERG: Ten states have failed to provide any mental health records to NICS and 18 others have submitted fewer than 100 over the last year. And without a accurate background check system, guns will fall into the hands of dangerous individuals.

SHAPIRO: At the White House today, Vice President Biden talked about the need to fix that problem. Congress wouldn't have to do a thing.

BIDEN: Doesn't do a whole lot of good if in some states they have a backlog of 40, 50, 60 thousand felons that they never registered here. So we got to talk about - there's a lot to talk about how we entice or what is the impediment keeping states from relaying this information.

SHAPIRO: The talk about executive action worries gun rights supporters. One scenario they fear is that the Environmental Protection Agency could call lead ammunition a toxic pollutant and ban it. Beyond that, David Kopel of the libertarian Cato Institute says the president could also reclassify some guns as destructive devices. Then, those guns would be covered by the same rules as grenades, rockets and bombs.

DAVID KOPEL: It means if you want to continue to possess the gun, you've got to go pay the $200 tax, get permission from local law enforcement and get fingerprinted. And if you ever want to transfer the gun to someone else, that person needs to go through that same process and the $200 tax. And by the way, you can't ever take the gun out of state.

SHAPIRO: President Obama could also limit the import of guns, but Steven Halbrook, who's brought many lawsuits on behalf of gun owners, says that might not have a huge impact.

STEVE HALBROOK: They're mostly manufactured here. There's a substantial number that are imported, but ordinary firearms can be manufactured here without any kind of approval, like for imports.

SHAPIRO: There's another way the president could approach this. First Lady Michelle Obama persuaded restaurants to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt, fat and sugar in their food. Gun makers and sellers could theoretically agree to anything the White House wants to propose without an executive order or an act of Congress.

But criminology professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University says that seems unlikely.

GARY KLECK: I think the First Lady had a lot more influence within the fast food industry than President Obama has with the firearms industry.

SHAPIRO: The firearms industry doesn't exactly see the president as a source of useful suggestions. Kleck says mortal enemy is more like it. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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