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White House talks don't include NRA: gun group president

David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), leads a moment of silence for victims of the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementa
David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), leads a moment of silence for victims of the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementa

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An effort led by Vice President Joe Biden to find ways to reduce gun violence after the Connecticut school massacre so far has not included talking to the National Rifle Association, the president of the gun rights group said on Friday.

NRA President David Keene said neither Biden nor his staff has contacted the organization since President Barack Obama unveiled the effort on December 19.

Keene said he was not surprised, given Biden's past support for new gun control laws. "He's not even a friendly antagonist," Keene told Reuters in an interview.

The lack of communication between the White House and the largest U.S. lobbying group for gun owners is a sign that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, has so far failed to change long-held stances on gun politics. In that tragedy, a young man shot his mother with her own gun before killing 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Biden and up to four Cabinet officers are holding a series of meetings with outside groups to discuss possible gun legislation. The first was with law enforcement officials, another with mayors.

The White House has said other meetings will take place with gun safety groups and gun owners, among others, but it has not said whether the NRA will be invited. The White House had no comment on Friday.

Asked about the organization's influence, Obama struck an optimistic note on Dec 19. "The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers," he said. "I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well, and hopefully, they'll do some self-reflection."

Two days later, NRA executive Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference that new gun laws were not the answer, calling instead for some form of armed guards in every school.

Keene told Reuters: "I'm willing to talk to anybody. I'm willing to sit down with anybody up there." He added, though, that he would not agree to "gut" gun rights.

"I'm going to want to have a conversation about how we protect our children," he said. "That's a serious conversation. Offering sort of feel-good bills doesn't strike me as serious."

Biden's group is due to offer its recommendations in January.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Thursday found that support remains high for preserving specific gun ownership privileges, such as concealed-weapon permits, as well as for some restrictions, such as background checks for every purchase.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Gunna Dickson)

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