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

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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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Mayors Against Illegal Guns protested Thursday outside the Phoenix office of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. A PPP poll released this week showed the freshman senator's approval rating stood at 32 percent, compared with 52 percent who disapprove.

In a posting on his Facebook page, Flake said: "Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you're the nation's least popular senator. Given the public's dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.

"Now, notwithstanding the polling firm's leftist bent, I would assume that my poll numbers have indeed taken a southerly turn since my vote against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal. It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it," Flake wrote, adding a link to a local story explaining the amendment's complexities.

Earlier this week, Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the principal killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, confronted Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the only senator from the Northeast to oppose the measure.

She recalled Ayotte's stated concern that the background checks would be a burden on gun owners and sellers.

"I'm just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn't as important as that?" Lafferty asked the senator, before storming out of the April 30 town hall.

Lafferty is expected to be in Houston, where gun- control advocates plan to read the names of shooting victims outside the NRA conference during the next three days.

The Manchin-Toomey amendment would have required background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm at a gun show or over the Internet. It needed 60 votes; it received 54. Thirteen senators who voted against the proposal are up for re-election in 2014. Ayotte's term expires in 2017.

In addition to agitating at town halls, gun-control advocates have purchased television and radio ads to criticize senators who voted against background checks.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political group helmed by shooting victim and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., debuted radio ads targeting Ayotte and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"We watched. We listened. We felt it. Newtown," an announcer says. "But Senator McConnell won't listen to us."

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the best-funded outside group pressing for gun control, also released an ad aimed at Ayotte. The group is led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The NRA is running ads in New Hampshire to support Ayotte, and some at her town halls hoisted signs saying they are with her. The ad thanks Ayotte for her vote and praises her for "protecting our kids" because she wants to shore up the mental-health system rather than tightening gun controls.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political group that typically supports Democrats, spent $50,000 to air a TV ad in Montana and Washington asking Baucus to reconsider his position on background checks.

"Now that you're retiring, please put Montana first," a woman says at the close of the spot.

That group touted Baucus' statement Thursday as "huge," though the senator makes clear that he would reconsider his position "based on the feedback he gathers from the people of Montana."

Progressive Change has also spent $100,000 on full-page ads in the hometown newspapers of Democrats Baucus, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Begich and Pryor are running in 2014.

In Houston, hundreds of NRA supporters, many dressed in Second Amendment and flag-themed apparel, walked through hallways where the group's "stand and fight" motto is plastered on banners and souvenirs. Conservative TV and radio host Glenn Beck headlines a rally by that name here Saturday.

"I was so proud of the American public, and the NRA, for putting enough pressure on our politicians," Neil Solt of Cypress said Thursday while waiting to have his World War II heirloom guns appraised at a pre-convention event.

Bud Clark of Magnolia predicted more tries at expanding background checks would be fruitless.

"What we already have is enough, and we are not going to change our minds about that," he said as he awaited an evaluation of a 1918 German Luger pistol.

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