For decades, the gun lobby has had most of the money. It's had
most of the foot soldiers. More important, it's had most of the
But all that may be changing.
A number of factors point to a slow - some say inevitable - move
toward tighter restrictions on guns in American society. From this
weekend's Million Mom March - a grass-roots crusade for gun
legislation that has been compared with Mothers Against Drunk
Driving - to gun control's prominent role in the presidential
campaign, the gun-control lobby is gaining a momentum it has not
seen since the Brady Bill was enacted in 1993.
While gun-control measures remain stalled at the federal level
and in some state legislatures, a number of historians, political
analysts, and pollsters say recent high-profile shootings have
pushed the issue to the forefront of public consciousness and
sparked a new level of activism that heralds future change.
Even if the gun lobby's dream candidate, George W. Bush, were to
win in November, that would only be a "short-term" setback, says
Robert Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control." The
movement would simply intensify in the states until Washington
finally caught on. "In the long term, the tide is against" the gun
lobby, he says.
That shift is marked by several developments since the Colorado
shootings just over a year ago:
*About one-third of the nation's Republican governors have backed
stronger gun laws in their states, including those in some Western
strongholds of the National Rifle Association.
Sometimes, the governors have chosen centrist positions backed by
the NRA, like toughening sentences for crimes committed with guns.
But they've also backed more radical steps, such as regulating guns
as consumer products, prohibiting concealed weapons, and making
adults responsible for minors' use of guns.
*Gun-control forces are expanding their army of advocates, in the
form of hundreds of thousands of mothers. The NRA's strength has
always been its membership, who get out the vote and can topple
lawmakers who legislate against their cause.
"The missing ingredient [for gun-control advocates] has been a
very strong grass roots," says Joe Sudbay of Handgun Control Inc.,
the chief gun-control lobby. The Million Mom March, he says, creates
"a whole new crowd of activists." The mothers also represent a
crucial constituency - swing voters from the suburbs.
*State, local, and federal governments are pushing their agenda
in a new venue: the courtroom. Perhaps more than legislation,
lawsuits aimed at gun manufacturers can "really change how guns are
manufactured, their design, and also the selling and marketing,"
says Jon Vernick, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for
Gun Policy and Research. Gun manufacturers are fighting these
*Finally, never before has gun control reached such a crescendo
in a presidential campaign. Last week, Vice President Al Gore and
Governor Bush exchanged barbs as Mr. Gore accused Mr. Bush of being
in the pocket of the NRA.
Indeed, Handgun Control Inc. has begun a nationwide television ad
campaign in which the first vice president at the NRA boasts about
its influence in a Bush White House. The uproar prompted Bush to
distance himself from the NRA, stating, "I'll make the decisions
about what goes on in the White House."
Additionally, analysts point out the significance of former
Democratic candidate Bill Bradley and Gore raising the gun-control
debate to a new level by demanding gun licensing. …