Gun Control 'Dream Team' Is Born: Can It Rival NRA for Political Firepower?

By Jonsson, Patrik | The Christian Science Monitor, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Gun Control 'Dream Team' Is Born: Can It Rival NRA for Political Firepower?


Jonsson, Patrik, The Christian Science Monitor


A month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a once- moribund gun-control movement this week unleashed a broad, coordinated campaign aimed at curbing America's fascination with high-powered firearms by, in part, blunting the tip of the gun lobby's spear: the National Rifle Association.

Heeding President Obama's call for swift action after 20-year- old Adam Lanza used an assault-style rifle to kill 20 grade school children and six staffers in Connecticut, a sort of dream team of gun-control advocates has in effect launched a multipronged attack that could change national sentiment about gun control, in part by catching the NRA at a time when its political influence is low, say political scientists and gun policy experts.

In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden is meeting this week with various constituencies, including the NRA and Hollywood producers, as part of a presidential task force, even as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns went public with a new national ad featuring the mother of a child slain during the 2010 attempted assassination of former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona.

On Tuesday, Ms. Giffords, a Second Amendment supporter, launched her own political-action committee aimed at raising money to combat the NRA's political influence. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), meanwhile, worked to push through new gun restrictions after noting that "guns have both a noble and tragic tradition in America and in New York State."

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama himself hinted that he may take some kind of "executive action" against gun violence, though experts note that any major initiatives must come through Congress.

"I think there's a large wave [of gun-control advocacy] building, and I think the White House is trying to have it all sort of come in the same direction," says Robert Spitzer, a political scientist at the State University of New York in Cortland and the author of "The Politics of Gun Control." "You have the Bloomberg people, the Brady people, now Giffords, and there's a sense among the political leadership in Washington that they have a moment to really get stuff done and to bring all these groups to bear in a consistent way. This is not a normal moment; it's not normal politics."

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The emergence of Mr. Bloomberg, a former Republican, as well as Giffords, a centrist Democrat who owns weapons for self-protection, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, not only gives gun-control advocates recognizable and heroic faces, but it also is beginning to coalesce a largely fractious movement that has had only a lean grass- roots constituency.

"One of the things that the gun-control movement has always faced is an abundance of underfunded groups that don't work together well," says Kristin Goss, a political scientist at Duke University and author of "Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America." That, she says, may now be changing.

Bloomberg and Giffords also help to change the image of the gun- control movement from one of "gun grabbers" to one of centrist Americans simply looking for common-sense change, perhaps in the form of an assault weapons ban, bans on large ammunition clips, or the creation of a national gun registry.

Giffords not only has cachet as a Second Amendment-supporting gun victim, but she and Mr. Kelly hope to raise as much as $20 million to help fund political candidates willing to support some gun- control measures in congressional districts where the NRA has been prominent. The effort also appears aimed at helping to sustain momentum for proposals already in Congress and those that will emerge next Tuesday from Vice President Biden's working group on gun violence.

"I can't imagine a better team," writes novelist Douglas Anthony Cooper in a Huffington Post op-ed Wednesday titled "Now We Know Who's Going to Take Down the NRA." Bloomberg alone has "singlehandedly demonstrated that the NRA can indeed be conquered in the manner proposed: by doing precisely what [NRA chief lobbyist Wayne] LaPierre's militia does, with comparable funding, and here's the crucial difference principles. …

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