Gun control 'dream team' is born: Can it rival NRA for political firepower?
Michael Bloomberg and Gabrielle Giffords may help to put a new face on the gun-control movement – and try to give the NRA a run for its money when it comes to influencing gun policy. But the movement has a fractious history to overcome.
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Gun-control advocates have in recent years acknowledged that the NRA has largely prevailed in the cultural debate over guns, exemplified by a big increase in the number of concealed-weapons carriers and the proliferation of self-defense "Stand Your Ground" laws (though the latter have become more controversial since the shooting last year of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.).Skip to next paragraph
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Responding to Governor Cuomo's suggestion that other states are likely to follow New York's lead on tighter gun restrictions, NRA President David Keene on Wednesday told the Brooklyn GOP Radio podcast that "I was amazed he said other states will follow New York. They haven't done that in the past. New York already has very tough gun laws, as you well know. Much of what the governor proposed, in terms of so-called assault weapons and the like, isn't going to make any difference one way or another in terms of violence of any kind in the state."
Recently, however, the NRA has done itself no favors by its answer to the Sandy Hook slaughter, with Mr. LaPierre railing against a coarsening culture and calling for a better mental-health registry and for stationing armed guards at all US schools to better protect them. Critics characterized his unrelenting resistance to any new controls on guns as out of touch and insensitive.
"While I don't think it's likely that there will be major change [in gun laws], the door is now open," says Mr. Spitzer at SUNY-Cortland. "The main reason why is because the NRA and its influence is at a low point at the same time when public attention on [the gun issue] is at its high point, so there's an inverse relationship between the NRA's political influence and the degree to which the gun issue is in front of the American public. The Connecticut shootings shocked, outraged, and mobilized the public and riveted the public's attention in a way we've just not seen with past mass shootings."
It remains to be seen what proposals will win favor, but some political scientists suggest that banner issues, such as a ban on assault-style weapons, might fade in favor of mundane, but perhaps more effective, efforts such as shoring up mental-health records, which Obama may be able to accomplish with executive powers.
While many gun enthusiasts deride Obama for his past support for an assault weapons ban, experts say the president is keenly aware that this is a unique moment in America's gun debate and an opportunity for those who hope to see fewer guns in fewer hands. Hence, says Spitzer, Obama will probably address ways to reduce gun violence in both his Jan. 21 inaugural and his forthcoming State of the Union message, and work to build momentum for the Biden proposals.
Meanwhile, Giffords, Bloomberg, Cuomo, and a handful of other high-profile figures are expected to ramp up a well-funded ground campaign to try to challenge the NRA and its opposition to any kind of gun control.
"If they continue to make it a priority, it could succeed," says Spitzer.