US gun-control groups get more firepower

A sign calling for further gun control at a campaign stop last October by US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Nashua, New Hampshire. President Obama is expected to move ahead as soon as this week with a series of executive actions
A sign calling for further gun control at a campaign stop last October by US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Nashua, New Hampshire. President Obama is expected to move ahead as soon as this week with a series of executive actions modifying federal gun laws.PHOTO: REUTERS

They are pushing for sweeping changes at state and local levels with the help of funds from big-money donors

ALEXANDRIA (Virginia) • With United States President Barack Obama poised to act on his own authority to try to stem gun violence, his gun- control allies are using big-money donors and shifting tactics to attempt to remake the political landscape in the national gun debate, challenging and sometimes even besting the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) in state- by-state battles.

The newfound momentum reflects a strategy to steer clear of a Republican-led Congress that has proved unwilling to touch existing federal gun laws after years of intense lobbying on both sides of the debate.

With tens of millions of dollars to spend, thanks to backers like Mr Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, gun-control groups have secured a number of surprising recent successes in Connecticut, Delaware and elsewhere. And they are now looking to state and local officials to win approval for tougher background checks and other measures from Nevada to Maine.

Mr Obama is expected to move ahead as soon as this week with a series of executive actions modifying federal gun laws.

Today, gun-control activists are expected to gather at the White House to discuss possible action, and on Thursday night Mr Obama will participate in a town-hall-style meeting on gun violence that will be shown on CNN.

But the measures he is considering would be a modest tweaking of the law compared with the more sweeping changes that gun-control groups are pushing for at the state and local levels.

The NRA remains a dominant force in much of the country, spending more than US$32.5 million (S$46.2 million) last year on campaigns and lobbying. It has shown continued muscle in stopping new restrictions and loosening existing ones in many localities.

But the political landscape has become more hotly contested as a result of the gun-control groups' shift in focus and infusion of cash, operatives on both sides say.

The axiom that gun control is a losing political issue does not always hold true any more.

"The money was almost exclusively on the pro-gun side of the fence before, and we were always accused of spending our way to victory," said Mr Richard Feldman, a former NRA executive who leads the Independent Firearms Owners Association. "Now the other side has these resources from Michael Bloomberg to get involved in these state and local races, something it didn't have before."

The organisation Everytown for Gun Safety - which received US$36 million in contributions last year, with the biggest chunk coming from Mr Bloomberg - has eclipsed a number of older gun-control groups in publicity and influence.

The group, created in 2014 after the 2012 slaughter of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, says its supporters have now grown to three million nationwide, including survivors of shootings, mayors, police officers, celebrities and rank- and-file supporters. It has chapters in all 50 states, with registered lobbyists in 31 of them, adopting a structure used to great effectiveness by the NRA itself.

Mr Bloomberg has pledged to spend at least US$50 million of his own money in the group's push for tougher gun restrictions - a level of spending that NRA official Jennifer Baker called "obscene".

Gun-control supporters gained a big win in Virginia last month when the state's Attorney-General Mark Herring, a Democrat, barred anyone who holds a concealed- handgun permit in 25 other states from using it to carry a firearm in Virginia.

Virginia, despite its reputation as a pro-gun state, also produced a victory for gun-control supporters last year when Mr Jeremy McPike, a Democrat from suburban Washington and a political novice running on a gun-control platform, was elected to the state Senate.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'US gun-control groups get more firepower'. Print Edition | Subscribe