WASHINGTON – Gun control advocates say the National Rifle Association-aided recall of two Colorado legislators who backed new gun restrictions will make it harder to revive stalled efforts in Congress to tighten firearm laws.
Federal legislation expanding background check requirements for gun buyers fell five votes short in the Senate in April, despite political momentum from last December’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. Gun control backers say they have yet to win a single new Senate supporter, and many worry that the muscle shown by pro-gun groups and voters last week in Colorado will make it even harder to find converts.
“The NRA does its job better than our side does our job,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way, which advocates for centrist Democratic policies. “They know how to influence and intimidate elected people.”
Added Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.: “The results of the recall were not good news.” As a House member last year, Murphy represented Newtown, where 20 first-graders and six school staffers were gunned down.
NEWTOWN DATE WILL PASS
Minutes after the Senate rejected the new background checks on April 17, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged to continue the fight. Democrats and gun control lobbyists, however, don’t expect Reid to bring the bill up again until next year at best, not until he has found enough additional votes to have a strong chance of prevailing.
That means the Dec. 14 anniversary of the school shootings probably will pass without a fresh Senate vote. Some gun curb advocates have hoped to use the widespread public attention that anniversary will receive to schedule a new vote by then.
“My advice to Reid is, if there’s any indication of change or movement in a positive direction, we should consider it. But so far I’ve not seen that,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., his party’s chief Senate vote-counter.
Colorado voters last Tuesday removed two Democratic state lawmakers from office — Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron — and replaced them with Republicans who are gun-rights supporters.
The two Democrats had supported expanded background checks and limits on ammunition magazines. Colorado enacted those measures following Newtown and a July 2012 rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 dead and 70 wounded.
VOTERS TRUMP MONEY
The recall drew national attention and became a proxy fight between gun control and gun rights forces. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate for stricter gun laws with his group Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns, contributed around $350,000 to the two Democrats. The NRA spent roughly the same amount opposing them.
Overall, reported contributions to Morse and Giron totaled around $3 million, giving them a 5-1 advantage over recall supporters. Yet foes of the two state senators found enough angry voters to prevail.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam played down his group’s role. He noted the overall spending disparity and said his organization participated only after being asked to by local gun-rights advocates.
“It sends a strong message that grassroots still matters, and voters trump Bloomberg and his money,” he said of the vote, echoing a theme the NRA has used before against the wealthy New Yorker.
Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said the NRA “cherry-picked” two vulnerable legislators to target. He said his group’s spending in those races underscored its commitment.
Murphy and other gun control supporters such as Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, say that with polls showing wide approval of background checks and groups like Bloomberg’s spending large sums, the NRA’s potency has been weakened.