Gun Control Activists Seek to Reboot After Newtown Shooting Momentum Fades

Learning lessons from the failed federal push

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Eric Thayer / Reuters

A woman places flowers at a memorial near a sign for Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 15, 2012.

Pacing the stage in a dark suit and no tie, the man who led the effort to legalize gay marriage in Washington laid out his next crusade to the nearly 200 grassroots activists gathered at the Seattle Center Pavilion Wednesday.

“We here in Washington have a history of leading the country from software and coffee to marriage equality and environmental stewardship,” Zach Silk told the crowd. “Acting together, we can stand up to the gun lobby and change the conversation in the country.” Silk, who heads the gun control group Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, then outlined a path to passing a ballot initiative next November that would expand background checks on gun purchases.

Making good on his words will be a tall order. Almost one year after 20 children and six adults were murdered in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the momentum it created to tighten America’s gun laws has led to few changes in policy. A federal effort to expand background checks on gun purchasers failed in Congress. Of the 109 state laws passed in the last year, only 39 tightened gun restrictions and 70 actually loosened them, according to a New York Times analysis. Just a handful of states–most solidly blue—enacted new gun control measures.

“We’ve probably seen more thrown at us this year then in the whole history of the debate,” says Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights organization in Seattle. “In some of the blue states we lost some ground, but in the red states we gained more ground.”

Even hard-won victories led to setbacks for gun control advocates. Swing state Colorado narrowly passed tighter gun control legislation—only to see two state legislators recalled in a special election pushed by gun rights groups and another resign rather than face the same fate.

As if in tacit acknowledgment that gun control is all but dead this legislative session, the White House marked the Sandy Hook anniversary this week by pledging $100 million to bolster mental health services. The statement made no mention of legislation to expand background checks or curb assault weapons, which had been the focus a year ago. Public opinion, meanwhile, is shifting. Support for stricter gun control has faded from a high of 58% right after the Sandy Hook shooting to 49% in October, according to Gallup. That span includes several other mass shootings, including one in September at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard that claimed a dozen lives.

Despite the cooling public opinion and legislative setbacks, gun control advocates argue Newtown has reignited the movement and taught them important strategic lessons. “This has been the biggest year on passing new gun laws than any year in the past two decades, including after Columbine. A lot has happened,” says Arkadi Gerney, who works on gun control for the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington think tank. “There’s a growing, stronger movement. The progress that’s happening will eventually reach Washington.”

The collapse of federal background check legislation has led supporters to focus on local efforts. “I understand the pundits say that not enough got done this year, but next year is going to be even bigger,” says Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which formed in response to the Sandy Hook shooting. The group has since launched in all 50 states, modeling itself after Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Next year, the group is considering pushing a measure in a number of yet-to-be-determined southern and mountain states to charge parents or guardians of children who accidentally shoot themselves or others with criminal negligence for not locking up their firearms.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is working to establish himself as a counterweight to the powerful National Rifle Association, has said he plans on spending $12 million against anti-gun control candidates in the run up to next year’s election. And Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nonprofit founded by Bloomberg and other urban mayors, is currently looking at around 12 states in 2014 where they will push legislation or initiatives on background checks, domestic violence and guns, better reporting of mental health records and expanding the class of prohibited purchasers.

These efforts will be aided by a new ally. Organizing for Action, President Obama’s grassroots advocacy group, largely sat out the federal background check debate because they were unprepared to launch a new effort so soon after the 2012 election. Now, OFA is working in communities across the U.S. to drum up support for changes to local, state and federal laws.

The electoral efforts paid off in November when Democrat Mark Herring won Virginia’s tight attorney general race. Kevin O’Holleran, Herring’s campaign manager, credits OFA’s work and direct mail and TV advertising by political action committees affiliated with Bloomberg and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for pushing his candidate over the top in a state that is home to the N.R.A.

Still, activists know the quick path is gone and the road ahead is long and complicated. At least in Washington, though, Silk is convinced that gun control will be easier to achieve than gay marriage was. “When we were in those fights we were always at a very bare majority, there are a lot of conflicted voters out there on gay equality,” Silk says. “It is very well resolved what to do on gun control and that is only being blocked by a well financed minority.”

A recent statewide poll found that 81% of Washington residents favor expanded background checks. Despite such support, Democrats last year blocked a background check bill from even coming to a vote in the legislature for fear of political repercussions from the gun lobby. Silk’s challenge is the one faced by gun control advocates across the country: turn public support into political action, something the movement has largely failed to do.

87 comments
teebonicus
teebonicus

This is commonly called "Whistling past the graveyard."

Looking beyond this immediate issue, which is a significant slice of the larger one, we see that a daunting majority of Americans believe that the government is reaching well beyond its just powers in critical areas of import.

Given the bent of the current administration and Senate majority, it is guaranteed that the policies that engender this majority opinion will not abate, and the percentage of disapproval will rise, not fall.

JohnSpurgeon
JohnSpurgeon

what exactly does an expanded BR check include? another box to check? WAKE up you feel good law makers, UNLESS YOU PLAN ON HOOKING PEOPLE UP TO LIE DETECTOR OR INJECTING THEM WITH A TRUTH SERUM, ALL THE PURCHASER HAS TO DO IS LIE! And tell me....what LEGITIMENT business can any of you go to right now that will sell a gun WITHOUT any paperwork or backround? which would secure your argument of any "loophole"....doesn't happen at any LEGAL gun show.....so where, tell me more????

Onepatriot
Onepatriot

It's not about taking away  your guns, unless of course you are a felon or mentally unbalanced.  I think the age a person can get a gun should be raised to at least  21. It's about trying to protect the innocent victims such as those little kids at New Town.   The NRA and gun crazies have stretched the meaning of the 2nd amendment to bizarre extremes.  It's a shameful chapter in our nation's history when your right to kill takes precedence over an innocents right to live.

You should be able to protect yourself with one handgun  or one rifle, unless you can't shoot straight.  Why should your fellow citizens, including the most vulnerable, live in fear because they don't know how many guns the neighbor next door has in his/her house, or how stable he or she is?  What are you people afraid of?  How are families to protect themselves when all they want is to live in peace as the constitution says they should be able to.  What about our rights? 

Everybody needs to be able to apply common sense to the proper control of weapons in the hands of the public.  It's necessary to take the NRA and the gun manufacturers out of the discussion and apply reason and logic to the law.  Too many people will refuse to look at both sides until someone in their own family becomes a victim of sensless gun violence, and then they realize how stupid it is to not have background checks limits on what kinds of guns are in the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

firestar1075
firestar1075

Will taking away cars stop drunk driving? Will taking spoons stop obesity? Will taking pens stop free speech? Will taking guns from law abiding people stop gun violence?


NO


lets control the bad people not the ones obeying the law

leonvang
leonvang

The writers of the Constitution tied gun ownership to the "security of a free state". Had that provision been followed with proper gun registration laws such as more civilized countries which includes in person interviews and references, those children would be alive today. Our government has caved in to the selfish rights of individual gun owners, the NRA and gun manufacturers to make it impossible to guaranty freedom from gun violence. Arming teachers and school staff is a symptom that our government can no longer protect individual security anywhere. When the NRA can block federal funds for studying gun violence by teens and clain this is an infringement of their personal rights, they are not eve following the Supreme Court decision which allows reasonable regulation. Every state should have laws preventing people like Adam Lanza from getting guns of any sort.

RoosterMan
RoosterMan

The backs of brutally murdered 6 year old's... great political platform!

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

IN CAPS FOR THE ELDERLY.....DEFEND THE WEAK....KNIGHT TEMPLARS


IN ONE CAMP.....THE NEO COMMUNIST CONTROL FREAK EXTREMIST DEMOCRATS.......WHO WANT TO TAKE YOUR GUNS.....SO THEY CAN TREAT YOU LIKE SLAVES.......LIKE IN THE HUNGER GAMES.....


IN THE OTHER CAMP.....ARE THE DESCENDANTS OF OF THE COLONIAL CONGRESS.....THEY WANT THE CITIZENS TO KEEP THE GUNS......IN CASE THE ABOVE ......BECOME TYRANNICAL......LIKE ......RIGHT NOW...


SO,,, ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION.......ARE YOU A SLAVE......OR A FREE MAN......


VALENTINE, WORLD HISTORIAN, MILITARY HISTORIAN, POLITICAL HISTORIAN,,,,,LOL...

anti-government
anti-government

NO MORE GUNS

NO MORE GUN MURDERS


THIS IS TOO SIMPLE FOR BLOODTHIRSTY AMERICANS WHO NEED GUNS TO FEEL SECURE.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

One word for gun control people. Colorado. Two Dems recalled and replaced with Republicans. Another forced to resign because she knew she would be recalled. Bring it on.

reallife
reallife

what? no government shutdown? quick we must get something going... err... gun control...  war on women...  abortion... come on! get me something!



LOL



MatthewKeltner
MatthewKeltner


Alot of the republicans in our government right now aren't actually conservative (right wing), 

they are actually populists masquerading as conservatives.




teebonicus
teebonicus

@Onepatriot - "It's not about taking away  your guns, unless of course you are a felon or mentally unbalanced."

For the present, yes. But the government has the power and lack of scruples to expand the list to include those possessed of no legitimate reason to be denied the right. The DOJ issued a law-enforcement-only memo that leaked, categorizing Americans who believe in smaller, more limited government and constitutional constraints as "potential terrorists".

Even a blind savant can see where that is headed.

While the plaintive insistence that "Nobody's coming for your guns." echoes in perpetuity, the groundwork is being laid to do just that.

Witness NYC, which passed an ordinance limiting legally possessed rifles and shotguns to a 5-round capacity and providing for confiscation of guns that either aren't turned in to the police, or aren't moved out-of-state by a date certain.

The government can change the rules at the drop of a hat, and by doing so lay the 'legal' foundation to illegitimately confiscate guns.

This isn't just a paranoid fantasy, it's actually happening.

So please, don't p*ss down our backs and tell us it's raining.



LarryArnold
LarryArnold

@leonvang

@leonvang [Arming teachers and school staff is a symptom that our government can no longer protect individual security anywhere.]


Look around. (I'll wait.)


See a cop? If you can't, expect to wait at least five minutes after you contact 911 (if you CAN call 911) before one will show up. Try and hold your breath for that five minutes, as if someone was choking you.


Even if you can see a cop, if someone starts beating you to death the cop has no duty to stop him. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that it isn't the government's job to protect you as an individual.


There is one exception. If the police have taken you into custody, then and only then are they responsible for your security. So how many people who are in maximum security prisons, where security is tightest, are killed every year.


In fact, there is one and only one person who will always be available and willing to protect your individual security. And it's you.

teebonicus
teebonicus

@leonvang - "The writers of the Constitution tied gun ownership to the 'security of a free state'."

They did no such thing. They identified "the security of a free state" as the reason the guarantee was being enumerated (prefatory clause), but the right itself is recognized as preexisting and sacrosanct with no conditions (operative clause).


mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@RoosterManIt seems to be exactly what NRA is using to push more guns into schools, and yet you don't see the hypocrisy of that.

JohnSpurgeon
JohnSpurgeon

MORE DRUG LAWS...NO MORE DRUGGIES!...dumb a$$

Bry2013
Bry2013

@anti-government For someone who has such a simplistic view you are certainly viewing this issue with one eye closed.  Let's look at  your logic for just a moment.  We will start it out with a question. Why is it that the states who have enacted these "gun free zones" and more expansive gun control laws are the states that experience more mass shooting than in others.  Places like Illinois, Chicago, California,CT, NY, Mass, and CO have all of these tough gun control laws but it seems that they have more killings than in other places?  Your simple logic does not fit those facts.  You need look no further than the recent events in CO to see the point I am trying to make.  A murder is a murder whether it is done with poison, an arrow, a motor vehicle or any other weapon of choice.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

No more untreated mental illness.

Bry2013
Bry2013

@mantisdragon91 Pediatricians spouting expert advice on Gun Control is like the Fry Cook from a local restaurant who didn't finish high school giving lectures about Rocket Science.  

jason024
jason024

@Fastgirl And another shooting in Colorado...ah the joys of the 2nd amendment

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@FastgirlYeah bring it on. Who cares if more kids die, as long as my party can use that as a platform to turn out the crazies.

MementoMori
MementoMori

@Fastgirl  

"Bring it on."

Are you a "Sandy Hook was staged by the government" type or one of the "Satanic illuminati plot to steal muh guns" crowd?

Just so we know who you're threatening with all that macho "bring it on" talk.

RobertRiversong
RobertRiversong

@MatthewKeltnerThey're mostly corporatists, under the control of the Koch brothers and other extreme free-market fundamentalists, masquerading as populists.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@MatthewKeltnerWhat would you consider right wing? Most of the current GOP is to the right of Reagan. And he endorsed the ethnic cleansing of civilians in Central America. So how far do you want this current crop to go?

MementoMori
MementoMori

@MatthewKeltner 

To be a "populist" you'd have to do something that's popular. When was the last time the GOP did that?

manlyman
manlyman

@Fastgirl Sadly, the most widespread form of mental illness IS liberalism.

fbutera51
fbutera51

@Fastgirl In theory, that is a lovely sentiment. However, the evidence that there really are effective treatments for most mental illness is weak.  Plus, the difficulty in forcing treatment on those who do not want it effectively makes this a dead end street in terms of stopping the violent mentally ill. Do we need to go back to times where many people were involuntarily committed to "nuthouses" for decades?

LarryArnold
LarryArnold

@anti-government@Fastgirl Over the last thirty years the worst mass murder in the U.S. was committed with box cutters, the second worst with a truck full of fertilizer, and the third worst with a can of gasoline.

JohnSpurgeon
JohnSpurgeon

What was the weapon of choice for vikings? cavemen? WANNA KILL GUNS, KILL TECHNOLOGY. We've simply chosen to keep the same tools as our oppenents, whether it turns out to be an over-reaching govn't (unlikely BUT POSSIBLE) or a psycho on the street. As long as you can't GUARENTEE that there are no more guns in the wrong hands or 3D printers on the market....i'll have my firearm. To you liberal pukes...just do what you want, bypass all the small gun control proposlas, create a bill to take us back to the stone age, kill tech, no more iphones of facebook,3D printers, just plain ol hand to hand, stick to stick combat, writing on walls etc...we wont have guns there :) Just bear in mind, when all the guns are gone, it'll be a hand to hand, close with and destroy kind of assaults...so if your not bigger, better, faster than your attacker...you're done. Guns and ranged weapons were created to create a distance between the attacker and victim so that odds can go either way.....are you ready for straight up hand to hand combat with a few psychos with your wife can kids at your side?

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

Severe mental illness left untreated is the common thread.

Bry2013
Bry2013

@jason024@Fastgirl But....But.......But.....Colorado just enacted some more strict gun control measures recently to which many people cheered.  What happened?  I thought more laws is what people like you wanted.  We don't enforce what's already on the books so new laws are not going to help anyone or prevent anything.  A person of ill intent is not going to be in observance of the law.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

Ah the joys of the those that are severely mentally ill and aren't getting treatment and a society that choses to ignore the issue. This is where are focus should be not on guns. Every one of the killers in these mass murders was severely mentally ill and nothing was done.

Bry2013
Bry2013

@mantisdragon91@Fastgirl Save your "emotional misguided misinformation" for those who are easily convinced since they don't like to think for themselves.  There are so called crazies in both parties and right now you don't make the left look any better than the right.  

Bry2013
Bry2013

@MementoMori@Fastgirl You sound like someone who develops a case of "hurt feeling" rather quickly.  I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories.  At the same time when media/government  uses 20 fallen little Angels, the 6 adults who gave all to protect them, and  refuse to even acknowledge that he killed the woman who gave birth to him first as a tool to restrict gun ownership by playing on the feeling and the emotions of others that's where I have a problem.  It's all slanted and no one on either side of the issue is speaking sanely right now.  Here is a novel thought, let's try enforcing the laws that are already on the books first before enacting new ones.  From observing your post I am led to believe that no matter what is said to you it will be considered "macho" because it differs from the agenda you have been convinced to follow. 

manlyman
manlyman

@MementoMori @MatthewKeltner They've kowtowed to the democrats to a point that it's hard to tell which party is which. That's not popular enough to  you MM?

anti-government
anti-government

@MementoMori@MatthewKeltner THEY PANDER TO RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS AND GUN FREAKS. THAT MAKES THEM POPULAR WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE.


"POPULIST" DOESN'T MEAN POPULAR. IT DERIVES FROM THE 19TH CENTURY PARTY OF THE SAME NAME, WHICH WAS POPULAR WITH POOR PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH AND WEST, ADVOCATING REGULATION OF RAILROAD RATES & FARM PRICES, LIMITING INTEREST RATES CHARGED BY BANKS, ETC.


THE GOP HAS NEVER BEEN POPULIST BY THIS DEFINITION.



Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@manlyman @Fastgirl Yesterday in the Denver Post one of the classmates of the Co shooter described him as a "socialist." He described himself as " "Keynesian.". In Facebook posts Pierson mocks Republicans posting "you republicans are so cute" and posting an image that reads: "The Republican Party: Health Care: Let 'em Die, Climate Change: Let 'em Die, Gun Violence: Let 'em Die, Women's Rights: Let 'em Die, More War: Let 'em Die. Is this really the side you want to be on?"

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

We need to rethink our treatment of those mentally ill who are violent. Clearly just ignoring the the problem isn't working.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

Typical response from someone who diminishes the mentally ill.

Bry2013
Bry2013

@sunshine_units@Bry2013@jason024@Fastgirl I am waiting for someone to explain why the "Gun Free Zones" and the states with the most "strict Gun Control Laws" are the ones with high murder rates.  It certainly shoots down the theory that less guns equals less violence and death that they keep touting.  

sunshine_units
sunshine_units

@Bry2013@jason024@Fastgirl

You know a place is run by idiots when they pass a law so restrictive that it turns law abiding police officers into felons for possessing the weapons issued to them by their very own department.


Might not be your state, but in New York that's exactly what the governor did in the determination to ram through new gun control legislation on the heels of the Sandy Hook shooting.


And to think some people say those with guns are crazy because they want to have their guns!

JohnSpurgeon
JohnSpurgeon

anti-government is "anti-government" yet preaches on gun CONTROL AKA governing....wtf? confused LEFTY as usual....this is why their bills never pass, because its CLEAR how dumb 99% of their actions are.