Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Three areas where Biden and NRA can find common ground

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 9:44 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
 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
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT