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

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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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Collins, who has faced heavy lobbying from both sides in the gun debate, also remained disappointed Thursday with the failure of the background-check compromise, which she viewed as a "common-sense" proposal that would not infringe on the Second Amendment.

"This has been a strange debate and, unfortunately, it has been characterized by misrepresentations," Collins said.

Asked whether she believes the gun bills are dead for the year, Collins said: "I really don't know. That really depends on what Harry Reid decides and whether he holds the bill or not."

Collins and King voted against a proposed ban on assault weapons, but split their votes on a proposed ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, with King supporting the ban and Collins opposing it.

The NRA's Arulanandam rejected Obama's contention that a wide majority of NRA households actually supported the defeated legislation. "Then who was lighting up phone lines and going to town hall meetings?" he asked.

The background-check proposal was co-authored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who won re-election after running an ad in which he fired a rifle and boasted of his NRA endorsement. At a breakfast sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, he predicted the legislation backed by Obama would have passed easily if the NRA hadn't threatened to use senators' votes to determine whom it would support in next year's midterm elections.

Manchin also said background checks would have been approved if the Senate had moved more quickly, when the nation's heartache over the Newtown, Conn., school shootings was still in focus. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 49 percent of Americans back stricter gun laws, but that's down from 58 percent in January.

"If we'd have gone to a bill like this immediately, boom," Manchin said at the breakfast, predicting it would have gotten 65 to 70 votes. "You seize the moment."

Manchin also blamed a broader liberal agenda in Washington with making passage difficult. He said lawmakers shifting their positions on gay rights and immigration found it hard to also vote for gun control. He said constituents would ask lawmakers who made all those changes, "Are you still the same person that we sent?"

The NRA also benefits from electoral dynamics, with a group of moderate Democrats facing re-election in rural states, where residents are far more likely to live in a home with a gun. The AP-GfK poll found most urban and suburban residents -- 56 percent and 52 percent, respectively -- say they think gun laws should be made more strict, compared with 41 percent of rural residents.

Congressional officials said that in the run-up to Wednesday's vote, the bill's supporters tried to gain backing for expanded background checks by creating an exemption for sales that occurred in remote areas, possibly 50 miles from the nearest federally licensed gun store. The aim was to win the votes of Democratic holdouts Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and at least one Republican, but in the end, the effort failed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday pulled the bill before a final vote and said he would bring it back again after gun control activists have more time to make their voices heard.

"I've spoken with the president. He and I agree that the best way to keep working toward passing a background-check bill is to hit a pause and freeze the background-check bill where it is," Reid said.

Gun control supporters say they hope the defeat will energize their more-silent majority to become an increasingly powerful counterpoint to the NRA. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said chairwoman Sarah Brady reminded him after the vote that "sometimes it takes a good defeat."

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