April 19, 2013

President, momentum outgunned by the NRA

The passion of its members foils new gun-control efforts despite public support and outrage over mass killings.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Four months ago, President Obama promised a grieving nation that he would do everything in his power to change gun laws after 26 students and staff were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Turns out his power and the impassioned pleas of devastated families were no match for the force of gun rights advocates in Congress and across the nation.

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Supporters of gun control measures hold signs on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver on Thursday during a rally to honor U.S. victims of gun violence since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

The Associated Press

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The National Rifle Association and its energized supporters overcame national outrage over the deaths of innocent first graders. The Senate rejected expanded background checks for gun buyers in the face of strong public support for the change, pleas from a former congresswoman still healing from bullet wounds, and a campaign bankrolled by a billionaire mayor. Foes of new controls were stronger than Obama's moral indignation from the president's "bully pulpit" and his political machine that won two elections but couldn't translate its grass-roots power to win the gun vote.

Obama, angry and defiant over the defeat, is vowing to fight on. And the NRA says it is taking him seriously. "We are prepared for a very long war and a very expensive war," association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said Thursday.

The NRA's success is built on the passion of gun advocates, activists on both side of the debate agree. That's how they were able to defeat expanded background checks despite polling that shows up to 90 percent of Americans support the idea.

"You know what I hear from the members of Congress?" said Vice President Joe Biden. "I just met with one. He says, 'Well that may be true, Joe, but that 10 percent who doesn't agree, they are going to show up. They're going to show up and vote. And that 90 percent thinks it's a good idea, but they're not going to vote for me or against me because of how I vote on this,"' Biden said during a Google Plus online chat Wednesday.

Arulanandam said he refers to NRA members as "super volunteers" who work on political campaigns and get to know lawmakers personally so their voices are even more powerful in the debate. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last week shows they are more likely to speak up: 20 percent of gun owners and 14 percent of people who live with a gun owner said they contacted a public official on gun control, compared with 10 percent of adults with no gun in their home.

The changes at the heart of the gun control bill failed to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate on Wednesday. On the background-checks issue, four Democrats voted against it. They all come from states that Obama lost last year. Three of the four face tough re-election fights next year.

Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins supported the background check compromise and were dismayed with its failure Wednesday. Collins and King were also co-sponsors, with Collins the lead Republican author, of an unsuccessful proposal to strengthen federal laws against gun trafficking and "straw purchasers."

King said immediately after the voting Wednesday night that he had "yet to hear or dream up any rational reason" for opposing the background checks expansion. On Thursday, he said reviving the bill is still a possibility.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he is willing to continue working on a compromise.

"Absolutely, if we can find a way to get (passage), as long as we don't compromise the concept to the point where it doesn't mean anything," King said. "The only thing worse than not doing anything is doing something that's meaningless and pretending that it is doing something."

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