WASHINGTON - Since their early 1990s successes with laws banning assault weapons and requiring background checks for gun purchases, groups favoring gun regulations have been consistently outmaneuvered in Congress and outspent during political campaigns.
That may be changing. In the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., pro-regulation groups have raised more money, recruited more members and attracted more public attention than they have in years. They're also combining those gains with the first active support from the White House since President Clinton signed the assault weapons ban in 1994. For example:
- Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has added 500,000 new members and 90 mayors in the weeks since the Newtown shooting, said Mark Glaze, the group's director.
- Former representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and seriously wounded in a January 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six, started a new super PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, aimed at supporting political candidates who favor "common sense" measures on guns.
- Steve Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer, said he was donating $1 million to Giffords' group and expects other to join him. Mostyn gave $4 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that backed President Obama's re-election last year.
- National Education Association members head to Capitol Hill next month and will ask lawmakers for "multi-pronged ... and common sense measures that will help prevent" gun violence, according to Kim Anderson, the senior director of the NEA's Center for Advocacy and Outreach.
- MomsRising, a grass-roots network of more than 1 million mothers across the country, plans to deliver petitions to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the NRA later this month as a part of its push for stricter gun regulations, according to Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the group's executive director.
"All kinds of organizations are going to be working on this, and we are very glad to watch 1,000 flowers bloom," Glaze said of the new activity.
They have a lot of catching up to do. Since 2007, the National Rifle Association has gone virtually unchallenged in in terms of organization and resources. It has spent more than $36 million on lobbying and political efforts since 2008, while prominent gun regulations groups, such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, have spent just under $180,000.
Meanwhile, the NRA has shaped policy to stop the government from collecting data on firearm incidents, changed how guns are dealt with in bankruptcy proceedings and steadily rolled back the influence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The NRA indicated on Thursday it was not backing down, telling Politico it has gained 100,000 new members in 18 days and hopes to increase membership of 4.2 million to 5 million before the debate over gun regulations is over.
The involvement of Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, has "helped change the equation" in favor of more gun regulations, Glaze said.
Their super PAC is modeled after one created last year by Bloomberg, Independence USA, which spent $8 million in the final weeks of the 2012 election and helped oust pro-gun Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., with a final-day advertising blitz. The group raised $400,000 Tuesday, said Mostyn, who is also the super PAC's treasurer.
"We're not going to let a small group of radical folks who control the NRA to dictate the conversation," Mostyn said.
When the pro-regulation groups had their last major success in 1994, they had support from President Clinton and his administration. They met with representatives of 27 major organizations for a national conference on gun violence sponsored by the American Bar Association to promote the assault weapons ban.
Such a coalition was critical to finding "common ground for thoughtful, balanced solutions," said R. William Ide III, who was then the ABA's president.
"Most elected officials will honor thoughtful and balanced solutions if they have broad-based, credible coalitions behind them," Ide said. "That will be critical since the vested interests will seek to lobby and politicize this issue without allowing full reviews of all facts and considerations. That is the challenge that a broad based coalition is best suited to address."
Contributing: Fredreka Schouten
Jackie Kucinich, USA TODAY