Biden meets with biz reps, seeks ideas on gun violence

Vice president cites need for studies on vidgames and shootings

Vice President Joseph Biden met with entertainment industry representatives on Thursday evening as he prepares to give President Obama a set of policy proposals on gun violence early next week.

Few details immediately emerged from the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, which was closed to the media. Some industry sources said it was their understanding that it was a session to gather ideas or to listen to what Biden had to say about violence in movies and TV shows. Many of the trade orgs were reluctant to say much about the meeting, and have issued just a few short statements since the massacre last month in Newtown, Conn., generated calls not just for stricter gun laws and improved mental health screening, but a study of childhood exposure to images of gun violence.

Expected to be present at the meeting were MPAA chairman Chris Dodd; Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen; National Assn. of Theater Owners CEO John Fithian; National Assn. of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith; National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. CEO Michael Powell, DGA national executive director Jay Roth and Independent Film & Television Alliance CEO Jean Prewitt, in addition to a rep from Branded Entertainment. Also attending was CBS Corp. exec VP Martin Franks.

Six of the organizations — including the DGA, MPAA, IFTA, NAB, NATO and the NCTA — issued a statement after the meeting.

“The entertainment community appreciates being included in the dialogue around the Administration’s efforts to confront the complex challenge of gun violence in America. This industry has a longstanding commitment to provide parents the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families. We welcome the opportunity to share that history and look forward to doing our part to seek meaningful solutions.”

On Friday, Biden will meet with reps from the videogame industry, which was given a meeting separate from other parts of the entertainment business. Expected to attend is Mike Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Assn.

Biden and other cabinet members have been meeting with an array of other groups, including gun control advocates, mental health officials, faith leaders and gun owners orgs, such as the National Rifle Assn. Biden said that he will present recommendations to Obama by Tuesday. In a brief appearance before the press on Thursday, he indicated that his focus would be on “the ones that relate primarily to gun ownership, and the type of weapons we own.” He said that includes proposals for universal background checks and limits on the availability of high-capacity magazines.

Although the meeting with entertainment industry representatives was closed to the press, in a brief appearance before the media on Thursday afternoon, Biden cited the videogame industry in talking about the need to do research on the issue of gun violence.

Biden related an expression that his late Senate colleague Pat Moynihan, made in the 1980s during debate over a crime bill that Biden sponsored in the 1980s.

Biden said that Moynihan “used the example of the assassination of a mob boss in 1936 … making the front page of every paper in America. And then he stood on the Senate floor and he held up the New York Times and on page 54, he picked it up, at the very back of the paper, where an entire family, including grandmother, mother, father, children, were basically assassinated in their apartment, thinking it may have been about a drug deal, and it made page 54. And he said, ‘We’ve defined deviancy down.'”

Nevertheless, any White House action may be limited to the use of the bully pulpit, as President Bill Clinton did several times in the 1990s when he focused on violence in TV, movies and music. Industry associations are likely to resist government attempts to limit violent content as a threat to free speech, and their position is bolstered by a 2011 Supreme Court decision that struck down California’s ban on the sale of violent videogames to minors. A majority of the court made it clear that they would be skeptical of future legislative attempts to limit media violence, largely because it has been so difficult to define where the line would be drawn in a way that survives First Amendment scrutiny.

The watchdog org Common Sense Media sent a letter to Biden, as well as to the chairmen of the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, that outlined a series of proposals, including a voluntary moratorium on all advertising for violent videogames and violent movie trailers during time period when children are likely to be watching.

Common Sense CEO James Steyer also is calling for legislation that would give the FCC authority to restrict the marketing of violent videogames, movies trailers and promotions when children are watching, as well as a more prominent display of movie, TV and videogame ratings on marketing materials. Another proposal calls for the Federal Trade Commission to require that the gun industry reveal all product placements and tie-ins with the videogame industry.