NRA celebrates gun-control defeat as tension builds for senators
NRA attendee, John Joseph of Sebastian, Fla., waits in line outside the George R. Brown Convention Center before the opening of the National Rifle Association's 142 Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Houston. The 2013 NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits runs from Friday, May 3, through Sunday, May 5. More than 70,000 are expected to attend the event with more than 500 exhibitors represented. The convention will features training and education demos, the Antiques Guns and Gold Showcase, book signings, speakers including Glenn Beck, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin as well as NRA Youth Day on Sunday. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)
Weeks after the Senate defeated a proposed expansion of background checks on gun purchases, the annual conference of the National Rifle Association in Houson had a celebratory atmosphere.
NRA members derailed “what looked like an unstoppable freight train,” Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said yesterday after taking the stage to a sustained standing ovation. “The target of their legislation is not violent criminals,” he said. “The target of their legislation is law-abiding citizens.”
Yet as the festivities began, gun control advocates have been swarming town halls, organizing petitions and buying local ads to pressure senators from Alaska to New Hampshire to reconsider the measure that failed by six votes April 17. They also descended on Houston to protest outside the NRA event.
In Washington, D.C., the efforts inspired by the Dec. 14 slaughter of 20 children in an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., appeared to be gaining some ground.
Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who voted against the measure and then announced he would retire, said in a statement this week he would “evaluate” any new gun control attempts. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who wrote the defeated background check measure with Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, told reporters April 23 that he is trying to craft such a compromise.
President Obama will “press ahead” for legislation and will explore taking executive actions, his press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters yesterday.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican and a lifetime NRA member who has an A-plus rating from the group for his support of gun rights, used his remarks before the Houston gathering to criticize efforts to expand background checks.
“While they may keep our president scoring political points, they do nothing but make it harder for law-abiding Americans to own guns,” Perry said, drawing whistles and applause from the crowd. That “makes it easier for predators to prey upon the defenseless.”
A new batch of polls, including some released Thursday, show that senators who favored expanding background checks are enjoying a bump in popularity. The approval rating for Toomey has climbed to 48 percent in a poll conducted April 19 to 24 by Quinnipiac University, up from 43 percent in March.
Those findings were in contrast to other recent polls showing a decline in support for those voting against the bill. An April 29 survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning group, found that the approval rating for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, had fallen to 46 percent from 54 percent in February.
The NRA and other pro-gun ownership groups are countering, running ads of thanks in the states of their Senate supporters. The approximately 70,000 activists expected to attend the Houston convention are today hearing calls for action from at least four Republican prospective presidential candidates: Cruz, Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
The test for gun-control advocates is whether they can sustain momentum and convert their fervor into political wins.
Supporters of tougher background checks are borrowing tactics from the anti-tax Tea Party groups that were galvanized to action in 2009 by opposition to Obama’s health care law and helped restore Republicans to control of the House in 2010.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns protested Thursday outside the Phoenix office of Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican. A PPP poll released this week showed the freshman senator’s approval rating stood at 32 percent, compared with 52 percent who disapprove.
In a posting on his Facebook page, Flake said: “Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you’re the nation’s least popular senator. Given the public’s dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.
“Now, notwithstanding the polling firm’s leftist bent, I would assume that my poll numbers have indeed taken a southerly turn since my vote against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal. It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it,” Flake wrote.
Earlier this week, Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the principal killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, confronted Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican and the only senator from the Northeast to oppose the measure. She recalled Ayotte’s stated concern that the background checks would be a burden on gun owners and sellers.
“I’m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn’t as important as that?” Lafferty asked the senator, before storming out of the town hall meeting Monday in Warren.
Lafferty is expected to be in Houston, where gun control advocates plan to read the names of shooting victims outside the NRA conference during the next three days.