Joe Biden looks for support in gun control battle

Bill Clinton says that the availability of high-capacity bullet magazines was 'nuts'

As battle lines were being drawn in the super-heated debate about gun ownership in the United States, the Vice- President, Joe Biden, sought support today for tougher laws and background checks from the one organisation least likely to give it, the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Even before engaging with Mr Biden, who is preparing a range of possible measures to confront gun violence in America in the wake of December's killing of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, the NRA boasted that it had attracted 100,000 new members since the massacre.

Last night, Mr Biden said he will present his plans to President Barack Obama next Tuesday, six days ahead of his inauguration to a second term on 21 January. "There has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability" of future mass shootings, the Vice-President said. "That's what this is all about. There are no conclusions I have reached."

Mr Biden again said not doing anything was not an option in the wake of Newtown. "There is nothing that has pricked the consciousness of the American people" like the images of "little six-year-olds riddled... with bullet holes in their class," he offered.

His comments came ahead of reports of another shooting today at a high school in Taft, California, with two people feared injured.

Meanwhile, a campaign to push back against the NRA, which for decades has used its deep coffers to stymie serious gun controls, is already under way. On Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton told an electronics conference in Las Vegas that the easy availability of high-capacity bullet magazines was "nuts".

This week also saw the launch by Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was nearly killed by a gunman in Arizona two years ago, with her husband Mark of a group called "Americans for Responsible Solutions" that will seek to match NRA spending during election campaigns to support pro-gun control candidates. Money for her project has already started to flow in from top Democrat donors.

Those meeting Mr Biden include sportsmen, retailers including the Wal-Mart chain, wildlife advocates and representatives of the video game industry. The range of participants suggests that the final package of steps will look beyond gun control towards new restrictions on showing violence in games and films.

The NRA is in a difficult spot, facing a much-changed mood in Washing- ton in the wake of Newtown, but also conscious of its members who are fiercely protective of their Second Amendment rights to own a gun. The group sought to project toughness combined with a willingness to participate at the same time.

"We are willing to talk to policymakers about any reasonable proposals and plans," an NRA official said before seeing Mr Biden.

"However, the NRA is hearing not just from Beltway elites and the chattering class, but real Americans all over the country that are hoping the NRA is not going to compromise on any of the principles of the Second Amendment, nor are we going to support banning guns," he added.

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