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NRA uses Justice memo to accuse Obama on guns

Monday - 2/25/2013, 2:12pm  ET

Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a gun violence conference in Danbury, Conn., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. The conference was held near Newtown, Conn. where 26 lives were lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, was organized by members of the state's congressional delegation is to push President Barack Obama's gun control proposals. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

ALAN FRAM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Rifle Association is using a Justice Department memo it obtained to argue in ads that the Obama administration believes its gun control plans won't work unless the government seizes firearms and requires national gun registration -- ideas the White House has not proposed and does not support.

The NRA's assertion and its obtaining of the memo in the first place underscore the no-holds-barred battle under way as Washington's fight over gun restrictions heats up.

The memo, under the name of one of the Justice Department's leading crime researchers, critiques the effectiveness of gun control proposals, including some of President Barack Obama's. A Justice Department official called the memo an unfinished review of gun violence research and said it does not represent administration policy.

The memo says requiring background checks for more gun purchases could help, but also could lead to more illicit weapons sales. It says banning assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines produced in the future but exempting those already owned by the public, as Obama has proposed, would have limited impact because people now own so many of those items.

It also says that even total elimination of assault weapons would have little overall effect on gun killings because assault weapons account for a limited proportion of those crimes.

The nine-page document says the success of universal background checks would depend in part on "requiring gun registration," and says gun buybacks would not be effective "unless massive and coupled with a ban."

The administration has not proposed gun registration, buybacks or banning all firearms. But gun registration and ownership curbs are hot-button issues for the NRA and other gun-rights groups, which strenuously oppose the ideas.

Whether to require record-keeping for private gun sales is holding up a congressional compromise on legislation to expand background checks, now required only for transactions by federally licensed dealers, according to people familiar with bipartisan Senate talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Justice Department and White House officials declined to provide much information about the memo or answer questions about it on the record.

The memo has the look of a preliminary document and calls itself "a cursory summary" and assessment of gun curb initiatives. The administration has not release it officially.

But the NRA has posted the memo on one of its websites and cites it in advertising aimed at whipping up opposition to Obama's efforts to contain gun violence. The ad says the paper shows that the administration "believes that a gun ban will not work without mandatory gun confiscation" and thinks universal background checks "won't work without requiring national gun registration" -- ideas the president has not proposed or expressed support for.

"Still think President Obama's proposals sound reasonable?" Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief Washington lobbyist, says in the ad.

Last month, White House spokesman Jay Carney said none of Obama's proposals "would take away a gun from a single law-abiding American." Other administration officials have said their plans would not result in gun seizures or a national gun registry.

A Justice Department official who would only discuss the issue on condition of anonymity said the NRA ad misrepresents Obama's gun proposals and that the administration has never backed a gun registry or gun confiscation.

While the memo's analysis of gun curb proposals presents no new findings, it is unusual for a federal agency document to surface that raises questions about a president's plans during debate on a high-profile issue such as restricting firearms.

Obama wants to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines exceeding 10 rounds that are produced in the future. He wants universal background checks for nearly all gun purchases. Today, checks are only mandatory on sales by federally licensed gun dealers, not transactions at gun shows or other private sales.

His plan also includes tougher federal laws against gun trafficking and straw purchases, which occur when a person legally buys a firearm but sells it to a criminal or someone else barred from owning a weapon.

Interest in the gun issue has intensified since the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six staffers at an elementary school. The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee plans to write legislation addressing some of Obama's proposals in the next week or two.

The NRA's Cox declined to say how his organization obtained the memo.

He said the commercial is running online in 15 states, including many Republican-leaning states where Democrats will defend Senate seats next year, such as Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. There are also ads in papers in five states.

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