By Josh Levs
(CNN) — The vice president and other top officials are hearing impassioned pleas Wednesday from survivors of mass shootings. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, reversed a decision, saying it now will attend a White House meeting about guns on Thursday. The biggest U.S. state is trying to keep peace at packed town hall meetings about guns. And a small city on the other side of the country has made a move that could affect the debate nationwide.
All over the United States, a new debate has taken off, pitting those supporting stricter laws against those fighting to protect the Second Amendment. It’s a contest for the future of gun laws in America, triggered by the shots that rung out last month in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 27 people — 20 of them elementary school children.
President Obama vowed that a new task force will provide “concrete proposals” by the end of January to help reduce gun violence. In a week full of meetings, the group led by Vice President Joe Biden could hear some of the most emotional testimony Wednesday.
Addressing the panel will be groups representing victims of gun violence, including Colin Goddard of the Brady Campaign. He was shot four times in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a gunman killed 32 people and himself.
“My job is to represent the voice of the overwhelming majority of Americans … that want some comprehensive, common sense changes to our gun policy,” he told CNN Wednesday. “There are common ground solutions that respect the Second Amendment.”
Many gun sales take place without background checks, and “that’s bad policy,” he argues. Conducting such checks “doesn’t stop a law-abiding citizen from getting a gun. But somebody with a history of illness, felony record, they need to get checked.”
The campaign’s phones have been “ringing off the hook” since the Newtown massacre, he said.
The task force will also hear from gun safety organizations.
On Thursday, Biden’s group will meet with gun rights groups including the National Rifle Association.
The NRA has argued that it is committed to keeping people protected, but that a focus on stricter gun control is misguided.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has called for all U.S. schools to have armed guards
NRA President David Keene later told CNN the group supports schools choosing whether they want armed guards.
A rising chorus of voices is standing up against the NRA and the gun lobby’s sway over U.S. politics.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head in a mass shooting two years ago, and her husband Mark Kelly, a former Navy captain and astronaut, launched a new political action committee Tuesday to end what they called lawmakers’ “fear” of the gun lobby.
CNN’s Piers Morgan has also garnered attention for speaking out against the influence of the gun lobby.
After initially saying it would not attend a meeting with the White House on Thursday, Wal-Mart — which sells guns and ammunition — said Wednesday it now will.
The company has had “ongoing conversations with the administration, Congress, (New York) Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg’s office, sportsmen groups, suppliers and others to listen and share our thoughts and experiences,” company spokesman David Tovar said in a statement to CNN.
“Knowing our senior leaders could not be in Washington this week, we spoke in advance with the vice president’s office to share our perspective,” he said. “We underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person, so we are sending an appropriate representative to participate.”
Previously, the company had insisted that its “experts” on gun control needed to be in Bentonville, Arkansas, where the company is headquartered, for important meetings, and insisted the move should not be interpreted as a “slight” or “diss” to the White House.
Across the country, people are sharing their views on what Washington should decide. Among them are Californians who have packed into town hall meetings.
Some have spoken out in support of renewing a ban on assault weapons — high-capacity weapons that have been used in numerous mass shootings. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, is pushing to reinstate a ban that expired in 2004.
But others at the town halls argue that banning those guns isn’t the answer, and could even be a slippery slope toward banning all guns.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, plans to push for major new gun laws Wednesday, including one of the country’s most restrictive bans on assault weapons, the New York Times reported.
Bloomberg, a longtime advocate of stricter gun control, is pushing for tough steps nationwide.
Burlington, Vermont, a city of less than 43,000 people, has already made a move of its own: passing a resolution that could lead to a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
The city council voted 10-3 in favor of the resolution, which will now be presented in public hearings and voted on by the public before going to the state legislature.
Amid the cacophony of voices battling over the issue, two young former Marines have found themselves in a spotlight online, representing very different views.
First, Joshua Boston posted on CNN iReport an open letter to Feinstein explaining why he would not abide by an assault weapons ban. “I do not believe it is the government’s right to know what I own,” he wrote in the post, which went viral. “Nor do I think it prudent to tell you what I own so that it may be taken from me by a group of people who enjoy armed protection yet decry me having the same a crime.”
On Tuesday, Nick DiOrio responded with his own iReport. Marines don’t believe in following the law “only when it suits us,” DiOrio wrote, calling Boston’s letter “embarrassing because he makes Marines seem insensitive and uncaring.” DiOrio said he supports an assault weapons ban.
™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.