Advocates for stricter gun laws are making their biggest push yet to bring wavering lawmakers into their camp, holding more than 140 public events in 29 states on Thursday designed to pressure senators into voting for universal background checks.
With negotiations on Capitol Hill over legislation largely stalled in recent weeks, gun-control groups hope that staging a “National Day to Demand Action” will help them regain momentum more than three months after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., sparked a national debate over gun laws.
The Senate plans to begin voting on gun-control legislation as early as April 8, when lawmakers return to Washington after a two-week spring recess. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that is run and financed by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), began a $12 million TV ad campaign this week targeting senators in 13 states during the recess.
President Obama is also holding a White House event Thursday with mothers who support tougher gun laws.
The events are aimed in part at reaching senators who are holding town hall gatherings and meeting with constituents during the recess, activists said.
In a conference call with gun-control activists Wednesday, Vice President Biden invoked the memory of December’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 20 children and six educators dead.
“All their voices are silent now, but we cannot remain silent,” Biden said. “The courage that was demonstrated by those teachers — we don’t expect the same amount of courage from our elected officials, but Lord’s sake, we do expect them to have the courage to stand up and take responsible action to end this senseless violence.”
The powerful National Rifle Association, which for years has successfully lobbied against gun measures in Congress, has been largely dismissive of Bloomberg’s efforts.
“He can’t spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public,” NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
There are fresh signs this week that a majority in the Senate could form around background checks for all gun buyers. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who had been on the fence, told reporters in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Tuesday that he now supports background checks.
“I think we’re on the verge of getting a serious, thorough universal background check system in place and it will — emphasize, it will — it will save lives,” Biden said.
But the prospects for other pieces of Obama’s gun-control agenda, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, are much dimmer. Biden seemed to acknowledge as much, telling activists on the call that they will get a vote but stopping short of predicting passage.
“That doesn’t mean this is the end of the process,” Biden said. “This is the beginning of the process. The American people are way ahead of their political leaders, and the president and I and the mayors intend to stay current with the American people.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced last week that he would not include an assault-weapons ban, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in gun legislation he plans to bring to the floor next month. Reid cited a lack of majority support for the measure, and he said senators could still vote on the ban as an amendment.
Asked about the assault-weapons ban, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday, “I can’t stand here and guarantee that it’s going to pass, but it is a question that 100 senators are going to ask themselves when they wake up in the morning and look themselves in the mirror.”
Gun-control advocates are growing anxious about the slow pace of progress in the Senate.
“This needs to move from stasis to progress,” said Jim Kessler, an expert on gun policy and a senior vice president at Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The two sides are close, but they have differences. One or both parties are going to have to blink a little bit.”
For weeks, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been talking with Republicans and conservative Democrats such as Donnelly in an attempt to strike a bipartisan accord on background checks. But some senators have disagreed over whether to establish a record-keeping system for noncommercial gun transactions.
Thursday’s public events, held in more than a dozen states from Connecticut to California, are being organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns; Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.); Organizing for Action, the nonprofit organization formed from Obama’s reelection campaign; and Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group formed in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
“Nothing matters more than what members of Congress hear back home,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
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