USA TODAY, January 12, 2014
By Yamiche Alcindor
Both sides of the gun law debate have geared up to wage war across the country in 2014 using millions of dollars, midterm elections, opposing messaging strategies and dueling grass-roots campaigns.
This year, groups will focus on pouring money into candidates that support their ideals and changing or upholding laws in hot spots such as Colorado, Washington and Illinois.
On one side, gun rights activists plan to challenge laws in states like New Jersey and California that they believe overly restrict law-abiding firearms owners. Advocates of tougher laws say they plan to build stronger state infrastructures and work on issues such as prohibiting domestic violence offenders from having weapons.
“We have tens of millions of people across the country who support the Second Amendment and who will go out and listen to the NRA and vote the way the NRA tells them to,” said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association.
With that in mind, Arulanandam said the NRA will focus much of its $200 million to $250 million annual budget on educating its members about candidates and on making sure that laws don’t infringe on rights — and have an effect on criminals. The group will also be pushing back against attempts to ban certain guns and limit the sale of ammunition.
An integral part of that plan means being active on the federal level, and in Colorado, where some state lawmakers were recalled after voting to require universal background checks for gun purchases and to ban large-capacity ammunition magazines, Arulanandam said.
“We will have a billionaire and multimillionaires who are determined to defeat the (NRA),” he said. “We expect we will be outspent exponentially.”
The billionaire on Arulanandam’s mind is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, says the politician is prepared to spend much of his personal wealth on strengthening gun laws.
In December, Bloomberg’s group, which claims 1.5 million supporters and about 1,000 mayors, announced plans to merge with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a year-old grass-roots campaign launched the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six staff members were slain in the December 2012 attack.
“Because it’s a political year, it’s going to be an infrastructure-building year for us,” said Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “We are going to be trying to make some small but important progress in states.”
Like their opponents, the new coalition will also be focused on electing candidates who support their agenda.
“For us, continuing to educate the public is the best money we can spend,” said Glaze, explaining that messages will talk about everyday gun deaths and not just mass shootings.
Those messages will also talk about holding parents responsible when children get ahold of guns and about pushing private businesses to discourage guns in their stores, said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns will also be analyzing data and advertising in places like New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont and Maine, Glaze said.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights group, expects billions will be poured into dueling initiatives in Washington.
In that state, Initiative 591 would keep lawmakers from imposing any stricter background checks than the federal government already requires. However, initiative 594 would require background checks for all gun sales across the state.
Meanwhile, the Second Amendment Foundation will be pursuing lawsuits in New Jersey and California aimed at challenging laws dealing with permits to carry, Gottlieb said.
“In 2013, our opponents threw the kitchen sink at us and they didn’t sink our ship,” he said. “We are in better shape today than we were before Newtown.”
It’s a remark that Arkadi Gerney, a gun policy expert with Center for American Progress, which supports gun law changes, understands.
Last year, the Senate blocked a bill that would have made changes to background checks.
“Folks were disappointed,” Gerney said. “I think the strategy going forward is let’s go into the states that are most important in influencing the debate in Washington and build stronger networks.”
Still, it’s only January and state legislatures are just beginning to meet, said Jonathan Griffin, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“It seems there’s going to be more legislation this year but it’s really hard to predict what it will be,” he said. “The partisan groups are really the ones that set the agenda.”