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Invitation to a gun talk draws mixed reactions

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) makes brief remarks to the press at the beginning of a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (2nd R) and gun violence survivors and victims and gun safety advocacy groups in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building Jan. 9, 2013 in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama appointed Biden to oversee a task force on gun violence.

Recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden's gun violence working group are due on the president's desk by the end of the month. Today, the vice president met with gun control advocates and survivors of mass shootings. Tomorrow, he hears from industry.

The focus is on policy. Or it's supposed to be, at least. These things are also plenty political.

Richard Feldman accepted the vice president’s invitation. He’ll have a seat at the table. Feldman heads the Independent Firearm Owners Association, and he hopes the debate will be different this time around.

“If we want to have this national collective food fight that we usually engage in, with sloganeering and bumper stickers on both sides, then nothing serious is going to come of it,” Feldman says.

But according to Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, other groups weren’t as enthusiastic about being invited. 

“I think that it can be delicate politics,” he says. “I think the reason why the NRA is generally reluctant to engage with the Obama administration is because they don’t want to be the ones who are viewed to be responsible for the problem.”

And that’s a concern some businesses share. 

Paul Argenti teaches corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and he says that, if you accept an offer like this one, to talk about the problem of gun violence, that says something. “I think it does place some responsibility on your shoulders, and you’re admitting to something.”

Walmart is the world’s biggest retailer, and it sells a lot of guns and ammunition. Its executives didn’t exactly high-tail it from Bentonville, Ark., to Washington, to meet with the vice president. First, there were scheduling conflicts. Then, in a statement, a Walmart spokesman said the company “underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting.” 

Argenti, at the Tuck School, calls that “bogus.”

“I mean, when the vice president or president calls, I think you can be more flexible in terms of your schedule,” he says.

Walmart moved some things around. The company’s spokesman says it is “sending an appropriate representative to participate” tomorrow.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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