But the efforts, designed in large part to counter opposition from the National Rifle Association, face serious political obstacles on Capitol Hill. The NRA spent more than $20 million on federal election campaigns last year, and its lobbying muscle extends from Washington to state capitals around the country.
Most Republicans in the GOP-controlled House also oppose additional gun regulations, as do some key Democrats in the Senate — meaning that the groups aligned with Obama will have to persuade dozens of skeptical lawmakers to vote for the president’s eventual proposals.
The groups, whose leaders are in regular contact with the White House, are working to enlist religious leaders, mayors, police chiefs and other influential constituents to lobby their local lawmakers in their home districts. The organizations also plan to stage rallies at congressional town hall meetings across the country in much the same way tea party activists mounted opposition in 2009 to Obama’s health-care overhaul.
A trial run for the burgeoning campaign came this week when the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence ran hard-hitting ads in North Dakota and Capitol Hill newspapers against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who said Sunday that some of the gun measures Obama is considering are “extreme.” After the ads — which told Heitkamp “Shame on you” — the freshman senator’s office issued a statement opening the door to supporting some gun-control measures.
“You have to get those members of Congress who think the easiest position is to be with the NRA to think that someone will walk up to them in the supermarket and say, ‘Why can’t we just have background checks?’ ” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank helping to coordinate the effort. “They have to think of these as mainstream issues.”
Other organizations active in the effort include liberal interest groups, labor unions and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is led and financed by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I).
A political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, was launched this week by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and has picked up seven-figure donations from major Democratic benefactors.
Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Ron Conway, a leading Silicon Valley angel investor, are helping finance the Giffords group and will co-host a fundraiser in San Francisco this week, an organizer said. Two wealthy Texas lawyers, Steve and Amber Mostyn, told news outlets Wednesday that they had given $1 million to the organization. Giffords was shot in the head two years ago in a mass shooting outside a supermarket in Tucson.