Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Three areas where Biden and NRA can find common ground

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
January 11, 2013 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
 John Avlon: Some common ground exists between the White House and the NRA on guns and that should be a heartening sign.
John Avlon: Some common ground exists between the White House and the NRA on guns and that should be a heartening sign.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: The NRA and the White House share common ground on gun control
  • Avlon: In the past, the NRA has backed specific plans to crack down on gun violence
  • He says polls show that most NRA members support common sense measures
  • Avlon: Obama should increase federal enforcement of existing laws through executive order

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Joe Biden doesn't much like the NRA -- and the feeling is mutual.

But on Thursday the NRA will be coming to the White House to meet with Biden and his fast-track gun reform task force, formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and due to submit its recommendations by the end of the month.

There are obviously deep divisions between the two -- they are never going to agree on the vast majority of proposals, especially the assault weapons ban (despite the fact that it was once backed by Ronald Reagan) and a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.

John Avlon
John Avlon

But there may be some surprising opportunities to find common ground, even on this most contentious issue. The NRA has backed specific plans to crack down on gun violence in the past that the president could enact through executive order, and polls of NRA members suggest there is even more unexpected common ground to be found.

For example, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is an existing law that has been underfunded and insufficiently implemented. Updated after the Virginia Tech shootings, backed by the NRA and signed into law by President Bush, the law requires federally licensed gun dealers to check with a coordinated federal database to see whether the would-be gun buyer has any history of dangerous mental health problems -- as well as criminal record, arrest warrants, or orders of civil protection -- that would stop them from owning a firearm under existing law.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in the span of a few hours, had been previously diagnosed as mentally ill and could have been stopped from purchasing his murder weapons if the information had been available to the background check system. But since Virginia Tech, states have made only limited progress in reporting the critical mental health information, primarily because Congress has failed to provide the necessary funding, granting just 5.3% of the total authorized amount during the Obama years. Increased screening for mental health is one of the few areas the NRA agreed should be focused on in the wake of Newtown and yet the Obama administration and Congress have failed to enforce the existing law by depriving it of funds needed for implementation.

Politics: How the NRA wields its influence

Likewise, the NRA has long championed Project Exile, a pilot program first implemented in Richmond, Virginia, which prosecuted serious local gun crimes committed by felons under federal law, putting repeat offenders in federal prisons far away from their communities. This get-tough approach,which inspired President Bush's national initiative Project Safe Neighborhoods, ended up cutting the "gun carry" rate in half and reducing the murder rate in Richmond by more than 60%. The five-year mandatory sentence for committing a crime with an illegal gun changed criminal behavior. Similar initiatives have been implemented in cities throughout the country, but the coordination has been spotty and the Obama administration has failed to follow through on the model or add innovations to it.

VA Tech survivor on gun violence meeting
Secret gun provision hidden in Obamacare
Biden task force chills gun stock rally
Giffords takes on NRA

Finally, President Obama could order the Justice Department to increase the prosecutions of people who falsify information on their gun background checks. In 2009, the FBI reported 71,000 instances of people lying on their background checks to buy guns. But the Justice Department prosecuted just 77 cases -- that's about 1/10th of 1%. A lack of follow through from the federal government is letting these gun criminals walk, and that sends a message about lack of enforcement that only encourages systematic disrespect for existing gun laws.

There's a pattern here. Before the Newtown shootings, the Obama administration had not made enforcement of existing guns laws a political or policy priority as the Clinton administration did, which got it repeatedly butting heads with the NRA in the process. This may in part be connected to a political strategy implemented by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel in 2006, when he courted pro-gun Democrats as part of a successful effort to retake control of Congress, an experience he carried with him to his role as Obama's first White House chief of staff before being elected mayor of Chicago.

"During the Clinton administration there were efforts to fully enforce the gun laws we have through innovative crime gun tracing projects, partnerships with state and local law enforcement and tough prosecution initiatives," said Arkadi Gerney, an adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on illegal guns from 2006-11. "So far, the Obama administration has failed to live up to that legacy and has not used its executive powers to the fullest to fight illegal guns."

But the NRA has been the prime opponent of many other new gun laws and stalled funding for many existing programs in Congress. Before drawing widespread criticism for suggesting that armed guards be placed in public schools after the Sandy Hook slaughter, the NRA had opposed seemingly common sense measures like barring individuals on the FBI terrorist watch list from buying and owning weapons.

Politics: Biden's vow on curbing gun violence

Interestingly, conservative pollster Frank Luntz found that clear majorities of NRA members are more reasonable about implementing such common sense measures than their more rigidly ideological parent organization. For example, 71% of NRA members would bar people on the FBI terrorist watch list from buying and owning weapons, according to a poll Luntz conducted for the Bloomberg-backed group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Likewise, 79% of NRA members support requiring background checks on gun retail employees, 74% would support background checks on all potential gun buyers and 64% support requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms.

The NRA itself has changed since the conservative movement coalesced to take over the previously sportsman-focused organization. In the 1930s, the NRA supported the U.S. ban on machine guns, which still stands. Likewise, the NRA backed the 1968 Gun Control Law passed by President Johnson after the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. "Today's NRA is not that of our grandfathers," said Gerney. "Unfortunately, the leadership of the NRA has turned the organization into an obstacle, rather than the partner of decades ago, in the effort to pass smart laws to keep guns away from dangerous people."

The NRA's hard turn to the right makes it highly unlikely that it will want to work with the White House on any measure. But in fact there is some common ground to be found, even between these political foes. Ironically, that common ground is likely to be found in increased federal enforcement of existing laws through executive order, the same remedy that the Drudge Report disgustingly demagogued on Wednesday by comparing executive orders by the president of the United States to tyrannical actions taken by the mass murderers Hitler and Stalin. It was a shocking reminder of just how unhinged and hateful our civic debates have become.

But beyond these efforts to fear-monger for political and personal profit, the fact that some common ground exists between the White House and the NRA on gun control should be a heartening sign, a reality check amid all the overheated rhetoric.

Reasoning together to solve problems should never be considered impossible in America.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT