Vice President Joe Biden and the NRA are sitting down Thursday morning to talk gun control. Up next for a talk: Wal-Mart.
But don't be fooled that the high-profile meetings are going to get much done.
The National Rifle Association doesn't want new gun laws. And Wal-Mart sells a lot of guns, and has a lot of gun owners for customers, so the retail giant doesn't want to look too close to the White House's anti-gun push either, one source familiar with the company's stance said.
"Gun sales are going through the roof after the shooting. It's one of the fastest-selling items right now," the source said. Wal-Mart wants to be helpful to the White House, but "when it contradicts sales, that's where it stops."
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar disputed the source and his claim. "We have been and continue to be very engaged in the discussions as the administration and Congress work toward a consensus on the right path forward," Tovar said. "We are prepared to comply with whatever the law says."
Behind the scenes, the kind of negotiations that lead to big deals that can get through Congress, like the wheeling and dealing that made Biden a kingmaker on the fiscal cliff, haven't even begun on gun control.
Just getting the parties to the table was a challenge. The NRA was not invited to a meeting with Biden until Friday, after the vice president already began meeting with other groups. Wal-Mart originally said it couldn't make it.
And Biden's meeting with the NRA might get awkward since Richard Feldman, a former gun lobbyist who wrote an NRA tell-all, will also be there.
All of this has left even staunch supporters of gun reform laws pessimistic that a big deal will head through Congress, even after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month that left 20 children dead.
"I hope a tragedy like this one will get more and more people who've toed to the gun lobby to rethink that, but it's hard to be very optimistic," said former Rep. Mike Barnes (D-Md.), who duked it out with the NRA as head of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in the early 2000s. "It's very hard to see anything meaningful passing in this House of Representatives."
President Barack Obama said after the shooting that he wanted concrete proposals in front of Congress by mid-January.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration still has high hopes for the meetings. "I don't want to and the president doesn't want to prejudge the actions of organizations or groups who are stakeholders in this discussion," Carney told reporters Wednesday.
But the White House is also pushing alternative ideas. Biden said Wednesday that the White House will take a look at executive orders it can use independent of Congress. "We are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing. It's critically important that we act," Biden said.
And on Tuesday, the White House started reaching out to foundations not usually associated with gun control to drum up support for reform in new advocacy corners.
The outside approach makes sense. More than half of the members of the 113th Congress in the House have been given an "A" rating by the NRA.
And Democrats remember what happened after they passed the assault weapons ban in 1994: They lost the House.
Still, advocates aren't giving up. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, pointed to recent polling showing 81 percent of the public will be more inclined to vote for a member of Congress who passes stronger laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
"I know that if they don't act and they know if they don't act, there is going to be another mass shooting," Glaze said. "If they've sat around and not gotten anything done to reduce that risk, I think they are going to be very exposed.
The group, which is headed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is up with a new, emotional ad. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the victim of a mass shooting herself, and her husband, Mark Kelly, also formed a group this week to try and blunt the power of the gun lobby.
For a major deal in Congress, the White House would need to get gun manufacturers, sportsmen, mental health experts and gun control advocates on its side.
That's the model Obama used to push health reform through. He got drug manufacturers, hospitals and seniors groups on board to help sell the deal to Congress when it was controlled by Democrats in both chambers.
The gun lobby has struggled to implement any proactive measures over the past decade as the NRA has grown to become a dominant political player and contributor to political campaigns.
And gun rights activists are digging in. A coalition of groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation, Revolution PAC and Women Warriors PAC, among others, is organizing a Gun Appreciation Day two days before Obama's inaugural address, calling for gun owners to turn "out en masse at gun stores, ranges and shows from coast to coast" on Jan. 19.
"We have never had a president who so callously disregards the Constitution, Congress, the courts and the will of the American people," Gun Appreciation Day Chairman Larry Ward said.
A White House official confirmed Biden has met with law-enforcement officials and mayors.
"In the coming days and weeks, he will likely hear from gun safety advocates and gun owners; mental health professionals and educators; faith and community leaders; local, state, and federal elected officials; and any number of other people with valuable perspectives on the subject," the official said.
Gun industry lobbyists argue that Newtown hasn't put their hold on Congress in jeopardy. Despite a press conference by the NRA promoting armed guards at schools that was largely panned -- no Republican lawmakers have broken rank and endorsed high-profile legislation like the assault rifle ban Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pushing.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a strong NRA supporter, panned Democrats' push on gun control Sunday in a Fox News interview. He did say that there are some things, including stricter background checks, that could be implemented.
In the coming weeks, one gun lobbyist said the NRA and others would try to make inroads with new members and continue to respond to specific questions from lawmakers. "There's not a lot of new coming out on their side. Obviously, they are trying to pull on the emotional heart strings of people," the lobbyist said. "What happened in Newtown is awful. Zero people in this country would say differently, but they are trying to capitalize on it to push a debate they have not been able to in decades."
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