After the Newtown, Conn. massacre, a gun control movement that had been on the political sidelines jumped into the spotlight. This week, the coalition — both its resurgent and brand new parts — will show just how much power it has.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to to take up a number of gun control measures this week, including proposals to curb gun trafficking, ban so-called assault weapons and expand background checks to more firearms purchases. That last item has become the central focus for gun control advocates following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and they see a chance to leverage polls showing public support for background checks into bipartisan legislative action. And so as talk of gun control shifts to actual legislative language, advocates are taking to the ground and the airwaves in an all-out effort to push background checks over the finish line.
“It’s a moment. And something great is going to happen,” said Caren Benjamin, deputy director at the progressive group Americans United for Change. AUC has been helping nearly dormant gun control groups on the state level manage the swelling interest from the public after Newtown and turn it into grassroots action. This week, AUC is helping grassroots groups take action all across the country, targeting lawmakers in Arizona, Iowa, Ohio and South Carolina.
Benjamin sounded pretty optimistic that the effort will pay off in the Senate.
“On the off chance that it does not, it’s not the only moment,” she said. “There’s a groundswell of need for action and urgency that I have not seen [right now] and people are not going to let it die.”
Other groups, including the remnants of President Obama’s 2012 campaign, have been pushing grassroots gun control messaging as well. And New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been spreading the wealth around, mounting a successful effort to make gun politics the central issue in a recent House special election in Illinois.
While existing groups take to the streets to fight for gun control, one of the movement’s newest players is taking to the air. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband Mark Kelly, has bought TV ad time across the country aimed at pressuring Judiciary Committee members to support expanded background checks.
Here’s the version of the TV ad aimed at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ):
There are real signs that, in the Senate at least, there’s some bipartisan support for background checks. Despite NRA opposition to expanding the background check requirement to cover more firearms transactions, pro-gun Senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed willingness to consider legislation that does just that.
Gun control advocates are hoping a bipartisan victory in the Senate will cause the Republican-controlled House to take up background checks too.
“The House will be very difficult,” said Andy Pelosi, spokesperson for States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a grassroots umbrella group working with AUC. “But we’re focused on the Senate. We need to move things in the Senate first. And if we get that done, then it’ll make the path a little bit easier.”