WASHINGTON Calls by President Barack Obama's administration to meet with all sides to discuss making gun laws more effective are politically motivated, the National Rifle Association's top executive said on Tuesday.
The White House said on Monday that the Justice Department is reaching out to "stakeholders on all sides of the issue. The goal would be to look at ways to find common ground" on "common-sense measures" on guns to improve public safety and security, while respecting the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established the right to bear arms.
But NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told Reuters in a telephone interview that if asked to attend such a meeting, the country's leading gun-rights group would say no.
"I mean absolutely not," adding that such a meeting would be with firm opponents of gun rights.
He called the Administration's move "a transparent attempt to appease the anti-Second Amendment base of President Obama," as well as to divert attention from a controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation.
The ATF program, dubbed "Fast and Furious," allegedly allowed weapons to flow into Mexico so as to help the agency bust high-ranking drug kingpins.
LaPierre said the administration realized it was not a convenient time to pick a big fight with American gun owners and wanted "to try to fog this issue until after the 2012 elections."
Obama waded into the politically treacherous gun control debate on Sunday, calling for reform of rules to prevent attacks like the one that wounded an Arizona congresswoman two months ago, while making conciliatory remarks toward gun owners.
In an opinion piece published in the Arizona Daily Star, he said some 2,000 people had perished from gun violence in the short time since a gunman in Tucson killed six people and shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head.
"Every single day, America is robbed of more futures. It has awful consequences for our society. And as a society, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to it," he wrote.
Obama said he hoped the Tucson shootings could spark a national discussion on preventing gun violence.
"Most gun-control advocates know that most gun owners are responsible citizens. Most gun owners know that the word 'commonsense' isn't a code word for 'confiscation,'" he wrote.
When journalists followed up that article with questions at a White House briefing on Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney described the Justice Department meetings.
Carney was vague about just what measures the White House might ultimately endorse but both he and the Obama had mentioned improving criminal background checks.
LaPierre said the NRA -- whose candidate endorsements are considered a major plus for politicians from areas where gun rights advocates are strong -- has long supported an efficient background check system. He said the NRA would like to see it more effective at keeping "those adjudicated mentally incompetent" from being able to purchase guns.
There have been widely publicized accounts of erratic paranoid behavior by Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Congresswoman Giffords.
LaPierre said the Obama administration could and should do far more under existing federal laws to prosecute those who use guns in crimes.
"They simply want to talk about more gun laws that only affect the honest people," he said.
"The dialogue needs to be about criminal violence and getting mad men off the streets and stepping up aggressive prosecution policies."
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and by Tim Gaynor in Tucson; Editing by Greg McCune)