At its annual convention in Indianapolis, Ind. today, the National Rifle Association is warning that looming gun control threats in an election year represent a “do or die” moment for gun rights.
Alarmist slogans in reaction to perceived threats are nothing new for the 143-year-old organization, which is widely acknowledged to wield political clout far beyond its 5 million member collective. But the “do or die” idea may be an acknowledgement of shifting politics, as well, given feisty new opponents set to wave protest placards outside the Indianapolis Convention Center: moms
Armed with a $50 million infusion of cash from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, groups like Mayors Against Guns and Moms Demand Action are targeting Indianapolis with protests and a tough TV ad featuring gun victims and families reading the fiery pro-gun rhetoric of feisty NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, as pictures of gun-scarred people flicker across the screen.
“[T]his year, as the gun lobby convenes in Indianapolis, there's a new posse in town,” writes Mark Follman, in Mother Jones. “They're mothers, they're survivors of gun violence, and some of them are both. And they're dead set on disarming the NRA of its outsize political power.”
Despite polling that suggested Americans wanted to toughen gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, where 26 children and teachers lost their lives to a young, emotionally disturbed man with an assault-style rifle, the NRA continues to win most political arguments at both the state and federal levels.
To be sure, judging by the steady parade of potential GOP presidential contenders – Sen. Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence among them – who made the pilgrimage to talk guns in Indianapolis, the NRA is seen by many aspiring conservative politicians as a necessary ally in a run for the White House.
Moreover, most of some 40 gun laws passed since the late 2012 Connecticut shootings bend towards increasing gun rights, not limiting or regulating who can use what kinds of weaponry.
Georgia this week became one of the gun-friendliest places on the planet, when Gov. Nathan Deal signed a law allowing guns almost everywhere, including bars, churches and even outside the TSA security cordon at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a world hub.
In Indiana, a largely rural state with a deep hunting tradition, the NRA has few natural enemies. It recently became the first state to offer a lifetime concealed carry permit. It’s now illegal in Indiana to use taxpayer money to conduct gun buy backs. And local municipalities are not allowed to enact gun restrictions that are tougher than state law.
Nevertheless, a major show of force and a fresh infusion of cash into the gun control movement will be a new wrinkle in the ongoing gun rights debate.
Mr. Bloomberg, who last week created Everytown for Gun Safety, an umbrella group for his Mayors Against Guns and Moms Demand Action, has fanned the grudge match language in a debate over whether the NRA’s strength lies with its corporate financing or its political grassroots.
While the NRA has about $250 million in annual revenue, it spends about $20 million a year on lobbying. As such, Bloomberg’s $50 million contribution means gun control groups can match the NRA dollar for dollar in lobbying, which it has been unable to do in the past.
As such, Bloomberg cemented himself as the NRA’s enemy number one. On Friday, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox called Bloomberg an "arrogant hypocrite.”
"Stay the hell out of our gun cabinets because this freedom is not for sale," Cox added.
Such vehemence suggests that Bloomberg and the post-Sandy Hook Moms Demand Action have rattled the NRA.
In a unique volley, Bloomberg’s new group launched an emotional ad that will run in Washington and Indianapolis, where gun victims and family members read Mr. LaPierre’s fiery rhetoric from past conventions while those damaged by gunfire are shown.
"The presence of a firearm makes us all safer," says Antonius Wiriadjaja in the ad, reading a LaPierre quote. A shooting victim, he then pulls his shirt up to show multiple gunshot wounds.
Such blunt argument, if supported by a sustained push at the state level, could whittle away at the NRA’s popularity, and may lessen political fears for politicians faced with curbing gun rights. But policy experts say it’ll be a long, tough road against a seasoned political machine to pass any kind of serious curbs to gun ownership in the US.
"I think that at the federal level, it's going to take time," Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told CNN. "The NRA and their allies have spent time entrenching themselves in Washington and it's going to take our national leaders time to recognize there are other players now."
At the same time, those other players also involve another kind of mom – the kind that likes guns.
Ready to meet the gun control mothers outside the convention are a number of pro-gun women’s groups, including Armed American Women and Moms with Guns Demand Action.