President Barack Obama promised a grieving nation four months ago he would do everything in his power to change gun laws after 26 students and staff were shot to death at a Connecticut school.
But his power and the impassioned pleas of victims’ families were no match for gun rights advocates in Congress and across the United States.
The National Rifle Association and its supporters overcame national outrage over the deaths of children 6 and 7 years old. The Senate on Wednesday rejected expanded background checks for gun buyers despite strong public support for the change,pleas from a former congresswoman still healing from a gunshot to the head and a campaign bankrolled by the billionaire mayor of New York City.
Obama’s political machine that won two elections couldn’t translate its grassroots power to win the gun vote. Obama,angry over the defeat,has vowed 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,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.
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 to 10 percent of adults with no gun in their home.
Arulanandam rejected Obama’s contention that a wide majority of NRA households actually supported the defeated legislation on background checks. ”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,a Democrat 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 after the Connecticut school shooting. 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.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday pulled the gun control proposal 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.”
After Brady’s husband,former White House press secretary Jim Brady,was partially paralyzed in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan,it took repeated tries over six years to pass a bill named after him that instituted background checks.
We have to prove to them that this is an issue about which the overwhelming majority of the public agrees and is passionate enough to hold them accountable,” Gross said in an interview. “We have to prove to them it’s safe to do the right thing,and unsafe for them to do the wrong thing.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,a media executive who has financed ads aimed at electing lawmakers who support gun control,said Thursday he would work to defeat senators who voted against background checks taking a page from the NRA playbook.