The National Rifle Association faces a public backlash to its active dismantling of gun control laws, after the mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school last Friday by a troubled loner wielding a semiautomatic rifle.
An almost untouchable lobbying institution in D.C., the NRA has repeatedly blocked efforts to discourage the sale of assault weapons capable of firing hundreds of bullets with one clip. But the senseless death of 20 children and six adults at the hands of 20-year old Adam Lanza—whose own motives remain unclear—have awakened a previously unheard outcry against one of the most powerful interests in politics.
Even legislative allies such as Sen. Joseph Manchin III, D-W.Va., a lifelong hunter who boasts an “A” rating from the NRA, are asking the group to reconsider its blanket opposition to gun control.
Without specifying what sort of limitations he might support, Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, “I want to call all our friends in the NRA, sit down and have this discussion . . . Bring them into it. They have to be at the table. We all have to.”
Manchin said that while hunting, “I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric.”
The NRA and many of its champions on Capitol Hill have remained silent, as of midday Monday, about the killings and the renewed call for tougher gun laws. The official NRA blog does not mention the attack, but in its latest post celebrates the nomination of the Outdoor Channel television show “Friends of NRA” for a Golden Moose Award.
Past massacres--including shootings in Colorado this summer at the opening of the film “The Dark Knight Rises” and at a 2011 constituent meeting for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Az.,--have done little to move the needle on gun control.
But the mixture of anger and sadness caused by the tragedy have caused many to call for concrete action.
“The time for sort of saying that we can't talk about the policy implications of tragedies like this is over,” Senator-elect Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
The gun lobby has recently proven an immovable force in Washington and a major backer of Republican candidates who have yet to join the largely Democratic chorus in meaningful numbers.
Independent campaign expenditures by the NRA totaled nearly $17 million during the 2012 election cycle – two-thirds of which was spent against Democrats, according to public filings.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has argued that having more assault weapons on the streets would make the country safer, since it would deter possible criminals.
“By the time I finish this speech, two Americans will be slain, six women will be raped, 27 of us will be robbed, and 50 more will be beaten,” LaPierre said at the association’s annual meeting in April. “That’s the harsh reality we face, all of us, every single day. But the media, they don’t care. Everyday victims aren’t celebrities.”
The NRA public stands on the principle of individual rights, but the Violence Policy Center found in a 2011 study that "corporate partners" from the firearms industry gave as much as $52.6 million to the group since 2005. Their efforts include voter drives such as the recent "Trigger the Vote" campaign, in which many gun owners were recorded on video declaring that the Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms is—in the words of one interviewee— "actually the First Amendment, it protects all other amendments."
Gun control advocates have quite literally lacked the firepower to compete on Capitol Hill. The NRA devoted ten times more money to lobbying this cycle than groups calling for greater restrictions, according to records tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics. But the tide may be shifting against the NRA in the wake of the latest massacre.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, a leading advocate of tough gun control measures, told MSNBC on Monday that in the wake of school killings in Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech and now Newtown, “There is consensus out there” for a legislative crackdown on assault weapons.
“We were so inspired by how the president talked about it last night and how it’s being framed now – which is how it should always be framed,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves, are we doing enough to protect the safety of our children. And if we are honest with ourselves, the answer to that question is no.”