Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press President Obama is flanked Wednesday by Newtown father Neil Heslin and Gabby Giffords.

Gun control backers say they aren't giving up

Published: Friday, Apr. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 - 6:48 am

WASHINGTON – The activists who launched an unprecedented campaign to impose stricter firearms regulations vowed Thursday to keep pressing Congress, despite a major congressional defeat this week.

They pledged to continue holding protests and rallies, vigils and petition drives.

"Neither of us is deterred," said Mark Kelly, the husband of former Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011 outside a supermarket in Tucson, Ariz., where she was holding a public meeting. "When Gabby leaves the house every day to go to therapy, the last thing she says to me, it is, 'Fight, fight, fight.' "

Their organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and others that launched a national movement to tighten gun laws after the mass shooting of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., will continue the campaign by thanking senators who voted for the legislation and trying to shame the ones who didn't.

"If members of the Senate will not do their jobs and work to keep our community safer, then we are going to have to change who is in Congress," Kelly said Thursday at the National Press Club.

But some lawmakers who opposed their efforts appeared to revel in the bill's failure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is facing re-election next year, used his campaign's Facebook page to poke fun at the other side. Beside a picture of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., it shows McConnell using his thumb and index finger to form a "zero" and it reads, "You can have this much gun control."

For weeks, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden traveled the nation to rally support and pressed senators in phone calls and over dinners. Lobbyists roamed Capitol Hill, while armies of volunteers called residents and knocked on doors to drum up support.

Billboards were erected and television ads aired in key states.

The Senate defeated a sweeping package of legislation Wednesday night, including proposals to expand background checks on firearm sales, reinstate the assault weapons ban, bar high-capacity magazines and increase penalties for gun trafficking.

In a pointed op-ed column published in Thursday's New York Times, Giffords dismissed arguments from opposing senators as "vague platitudes."

"I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote," the former Arizona congresswoman said. "This was neither. … I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated."

But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who voted against a proposed bipartisan compromise to tighten background checks, said on his Facebook page that the measure "simply goes too far." He said it would have expanded "far beyond commercial sales to include almost all private transfers – including between friends and neighbors – if the posting or display of the ad for a firearm was made public. It would likely even extend to message boards, like the one in an office kitchen."

Gun control has been debated before in Washington, but never has it taken center stage the way it has after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

"Guns haven't been an issue for quite some time on the national scene," said William Vizzard, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Sacramento, who was a special agent-in-charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "It's the biggest hubbub on guns in a long time."

Gun rights groups fought back primarily through news conferences, quiet meetings and swarms of lobbyists.

But White House spokesman Josh Earnest alluded to the NRA's efforts – without naming the group – saying Thursday that "attempts to mislead the American public about the contents of the legislation are unconscionable."

Since the Newtown shooting in December, 45 lobbyists representing 10 groups have registered to lobby on the issue, according to records filed with the Senate. They include big players, such as the NRA, and prominent gun control organizations.

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