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Groups mobilize to fight gun violence

Advocates of firearms restrictions gear up to counter the influence of the NRA.

January 09, 2013|Melanie Mason and Christi Parsons
  • Tucson police officers catalog firearms during a gun buyback program on the second anniversary of the shooting in the city that killed six people and injured 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Tucson police officers catalog firearms during a gun buyback program on… (Brian Skoloff, Associated…)

WASHINGTON — As the White House prepares to unveil its recommendations this month to combat gun violence, advocates of reform are already working to generate public pressure for gun control policies that have long been stalled in Congress.

On Tuesday, the second anniversary of a Tucson shooting that left six dead and 13 injured, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), several groups launched fresh offensives on the airwaves and in print. The highest-profile effort came from Giffords, who introduced a campaign along with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, to counter the influence of the gun-rights lobby.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, January 12, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Local Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Gun control: In the Jan. 9 Section A, an article about activists trying to build grass-roots support for federal gun-control legislation said that the mass shooting at Virginia Tech was in 2005. It was in 2007.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nonprofit group founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, New York's mayor, and Thomas Menino, Boston's mayor, also released a television ad Tuesday featuring Roxanna Green, whose 9-year-old daughter was among those killed in Tucson. The ad will run on cable in Washington as well as in markets where there have been mass shootings.

The concerted push underscores how the most difficult challenge for advocates is not crafting legislation, but altering the political calculus that for years has favored the National Rifle Assn. and its savvy political operation. The question: how to amass resources and sustain momentum after the horrors of the most recent mass shooting recede from public consciousness.

"One of the problems is it has been a very loose coalition," said Mike Pohle, whose son Mike Pohle Jr. was killed in the 2005 Virginia Tech shootings. "But with what Rep. Giffords announced today and the commitment of Mayor Bloomberg and others, we are coming.

"We are going to work to be as powerful, if not more powerful, than the NRA because that's the only way you're going to beat them."

In the wake of last month's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the NRA pledged to resist efforts to overhaul gun laws by, for example, banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. The group, which did not respond to requests for comment, will meet with Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, one in a series of meetings the White House is holding to solicit proposals for dealing with gun violence.

Biden has talked to law enforcement groups and educators, and he meets this week with victims of gun violence, firearms safety organizations and representatives of the entertainment industry. The vice president will submit his policy recommendations to President Obama as soon as next week.

Advisors to Obama are keeping quiet about whether his campaign network would mobilize in support of the president's initiatives. But his speechwriting team is talking about ways to discuss gun violence in his inaugural speech or State of the Union address.

The president and his emissaries are also telling activists that they need to build public support. "We're not going to get this done unless the American people decide it's important," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press" last month. "This is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital."

"Money is not the determining factor in this fight," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation to require background checks for ammunition purchases. "An outraged and aware public is going to get it done, if it gets done."

The NRA, with more than 4 million members, has been a political juggernaut for decades, influencing even the most minute legislative actions. The group spent more than $2.2 million on federal lobbying and donated $1 million to candidates in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. It also poured nearly $19 million into independent expenditures.

"Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer," Giffords and Kelly wrote Tuesday in an USA Today opinion piece introducing their campaign, Americans for Responsible Solutions.

John Feinblatt, Bloomberg's chief policy advisor, declined to disclose the budget for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, saying simply, "We mean business." But given Bloomberg's personal fortune, other advocates expect the group's resources to be sizable.

"Mayors Against Illegal Guns brings a whole set of financial resources to that table that has never happened before on our side," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president of the moderate Democratic think tank Third Way. "And with the mayors, you can get police chiefs, which can be so important."

Kessler, a veteran of gun lobbying battles with his previous group, Americans for Gun Safety, said police chiefs give crucial political cover to members of Congress wary of the NRA's power.

Perhaps more significant than financial resources will be advocates' ability to mobilize support as effectively as the NRA, which assiduously tracks the latest news on gun policy and alerts its grass-roots network.

An alliance of pro-gun activists unaffiliated with the NRA is hoping to harness similar enthusiasm on a "Gun Appreciation Day," scheduled for Jan. 19. It is urging those opposed to stricter firearm laws to show up at gun stores, shooting ranges and gun shows.

Larry Ward, who is leading the effort, said he hoped to quash any legislation aiming to restrict guns, such as an assault weapons ban championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The response so far, he said, has been "phenomenal."

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

christi.parsons@latimes.com

Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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