May 4, 2013

NRA celebrates, gun-control backers press on

Polls show that senators who favored expanding background checks have gained in popularity.

The Associated Press

HOUSTON —  Weeks after the Senate defeated a proposed expansion of background checks on gun purchases, the annual conference of the National Rifle Association here has a celebratory atmosphere.

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John Joseph of Sebastian, Fla., waits in line outside the George R. Brown Convention Center before the opening of the National Rifle Association's 142 annual meeting Thursday in Houston.

The Associated Press

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Janet Bero waits to have her German Luger appraised during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting Thursday in Houston.

The Associated Press

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NRA members derailed "what looked like an unstoppable freight train," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Friday after taking the stage to a sustained standing ovation. "The target of their legislation is not violent criminals," he said. "The target of their legislation is law-abiding citizens."

Yet as the festivities began, gun-control advocates have been swarming town halls, organizing petitions and buying local ads to pressure senators from Alaska to New Hampshire to reconsider the measure that failed by six votes on April 17. They also descended on Houston to protest outside the NRA event.

In Washington, the efforts inspired by the Dec. 14 slaughter of 20 children in an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., appeared to be gaining some ground.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who voted against the measure and then announced he would retire, said in a statement this week he would "evaluate" any new gun-control attempts. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who wrote the defeated background-check measure with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told reporters April 23 that he is trying to craft such a compromise.

President Obama will "press ahead" for legislation and will explore taking executive actions, his press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters Friday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, R, a lifetime NRA member who has an A-plus rating from the group for his support of gun rights, used his remarks before the Houston gathering to criticize efforts to expand background checks.

"While they may keep our president scoring political points, they do nothing but make it harder for law-abiding Americans to own guns," Perry said, drawing whistles and applause from the crowd. That "makes it easier for predators to prey upon the defenseless."

A new batch of polls, including some released Thursday, show that senators who favored expanding background checks are enjoying a bump in popularity. The approval rating for Toomey has climbed to 48 percent in a poll conducted April 19-24 by Quinnipiac University, up from 43 percent in March.

Those findings were in contrast to other recent polls showing a decline in support for those voting against the bill. An April 29 survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic- leaning group, found that the approval rating for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had fallen to 46 percent from 54 percent in February.

The NRA and other pro-gun ownership groups are countering, running ads of thanks in the states of their Senate supporters. The approximately 70,000 activists expected to attend the Houston convention were hearing calls for action Friday from at least four Republican prospective presidential candidates: Cruz, Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The test for gun-control advocates is whether they can sustain momentum and convert their fervor into political wins, either by resurrecting and passing a gun-control bill this year - a rare occurrence on an issue that generates passion on both sides, or by ousting its opponents next year at the ballot box.

Supporters of tougher background checks are borrowing tactics from the anti-tax tea party groups that were galvanized to action in 2009 by opposition to Obama's health-care law and helped restore Republicans to control of the House in 2010.

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