WASHINGTON — The leader of the National Rifle Association expressed confidence Sunday that Congress will not pass a ban on assault weapons, a major aim of gun-control proponents after last month’s killing of 20 children and six adults at a school in Connecticut.
“I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get [an] assault weapons ban through this Congress,” David Keene said on CNN’s State Of The Union.
His comments aired two days before Vice President Joe Biden is expected to issue recommendations to President Obama on reducing gun violence.
Mr. Biden’s focus has been to require universal background checks for gun sales and to limit sales of high-capacity ammunition clips, but administration officials have indicated a ban on assault weapons could be proposed.
Mr. Biden met with NRA officers last week, but Mr. Keene termed the meeting disingenuous, saying the Obama Administration had made up its mind.
Mr. Keene insisted measures on assault weapons, as well as on high-volume magazines, would not prevent gun violence. He said the focus should be to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) disagreed with Mr. Keene’s assessment that Congress would not take action on assault weapons.
“No, I think he’s wrong,” Mr. Murphy said on CNN.
He said he believed such a ban would have prevented the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “Newtown fundamentally changed things,” Mr. Murphy said. “The NRA doesn’t get this.”
The direction of the national debate will grow clearer after Mr. Biden’s group delivers its recommendations to the President. Some officials have cautioned that any restrictions on guns must be part of a comprehensive attempt to curb mass violence, including a closer look at security, the entertainment industry, and mental-health issues.
“An assault weapons stand-alone ban on just guns alone, in the political reality we have, will not go anywhere. It has to be comprehensive,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said on State of the Union. Mr. Manchin has received an “A” rating from the NRA.
Groups on both sides of the debate are gearing up for what could be a tense legislative battle.
Neera Tanden, president of the liberal think tank Center For American Progress, vowed a grass-roots effort among gun-control advocates for restrictions.
“I expect the President to play a strong leadership role, but progressive organizations will be working to — working with the states to show that we have the voice and really have the American people,” Ms. Tanden said on Fox News Sunday.
For their part, gun-rights advocates still argue in favor of arming qualified citizens in an attempt to curb mass violence. “We have got to face the reality that we have got to empower average people, including teachers and other people in schools, to be able to defend themselves,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.
Colin Powell, former secretary of State, offered optimism that lawmakers can reach an accord on at least incremental measures to curb gun violence. “I think we’re at a very important point in our national dialogue on this,” Mr. Powell said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
As the debate continued about proposals or tightening existing measures, Justice Department data indicate nearly 80,000 Americans were denied guns in 2010 because they lied or gave inaccurate information about their criminal histories on background-check forms.
Yet only 44 of those people were charged with a crime.
The low number of prosecutions for people who “lie and try,” as they’re called by law enforcement officials, is being studied by the Obama Administration. The White House has said it is looking for actions it can take without congressional approval.
Increasing prosecutions for lying on background-check forms is an effort the administration can take largely on its own, in part by pressing federal prosecutors to pursue such cases.
It is also one measure on which both sides of the gun-control debate agree. It is a felony to deliberately provide false information in an effort to buy a gun.
Studies financed by the Justice Department show that people who do so are more likely than the average person to commit violent crimes after they are denied a firearm purchase.
At last week’s meeting between Mr. Biden and gun-control advocates, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns recommended the administration instruct the Justice Department to investigate those who are denied guns and who have a history that suggests they might commit violence.
In a memo to the White House, the group said “armed career criminals who have at least three prior violent felonies and/or serious drug offenses and would qualify for a mandatory sentence of 7-15 years” should be prosecuted if they lie on background-check forms.
The group said it made a similar recommendation to the Obama Administration in 2009. The memorandum said that more than 800 mayors in the United States “support more aggressive prosecution of those who fail background checks.”