The Brady Campaign wasn't upset with anything Schumer did, per se. Schumer, one of the most powerful Senate Democrats and the author of the last major background bill to pass Congress, in 1993, is arguably the last person gun-control advocates need to worry about.
They were upset with what Schumer didn't do — or at least, what he hadn't done yet. Schumer apparently promised at a gala in November to bring up legislation requiring universal background checks by early 2016. It is now May, and the Brady Campaign wanted action. So they launched a campaign on social media and called up reporters to demand it.
"We've called him out because he's in a leadership position to be able to do something about it," said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign.
And it worked — kind of. On Monday, Schumer's office said they would release a bill by the end of the day.
But calling out an ally in such a public fashion struck many in the gun-control world as awkward, at best, and harmful to their cause, at worst. Several advocates The Fix talked to said they were surprised at the Brady campaign's full-throated targeting of Schumer. Several organizations — the Schumer-affiliated Third Way, the Gabby Giffords-affiliated Americans for Responsible Solutions and the Michael Bloomberg-affiliated Everytown for Gun Safety — released statements defending Schumer.
It's not hard to see why the gun-control world was scratching their heads at the Brady Campaign's move. For one, a background-check bill is likely dead on arrival in this Republican-controlled Congress. Advocates brought up one in December in response to the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings, and it failed, 50 to 48. Other attempts, mostly brought up after high-profile massacres, have met a similar fate.
Schumer's bill is likely destined to gather dust. Or if Republicans decide to bring it up for a vote, it will almost certainly fail. And headlines about Congress yet again failing to pass something that polls show 80 to 90 percent of Americans agree with, at least in the broad strokes, is the last thing gun-control advocates need right now.
Especially when the story line they want out there is that they're actually winning some key battles at the state level. Here's what I wrote in April about the wins they've notched:
In Georgia, gun-control advocates have successfully given Gov. Nathan Deal (R) pause about a bill to allow guns on campus. He's deciding whether to veto the bill on his desk over concerns it allows people to carry guns into child-care facilities and faculty offices. Step back even further, and gun-control advocates say they have even more to cheer about.
To pause all the momentum they have built up at the state level to support a bill they know is going to fail doesn't make sense, other gun-control advocates argued. It'd be embarrassing and counterproductive, they said.
The second reason gun-control advocates were confused by the Brady Campaign's decision to pressure Schumer is that, in Washington, true friends are hard to come by. The still relatively unorganized gun-control movement needs every friend it can get, so it doesn't make a ton of sense to alienate one of their own. Especially when passing a gun-control bill in America's gun-loving culture is one of the hardest thing in politics to do, advocates say. "It's like threading a needle in a tornado," one said.
Schumer proved back in 1993 that he was savvy enough to make the impossible a reality when he got the Brady background-check bill passed, mandating federal background checks for most firearm purchases. But even then, the vote was close; it passed by one vote in the House and by two in the Senate. When Congress tried again in 2013 with a bill from Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Schumer worked behind the scenes to get it to a vote. It failed, but they promised to try again. And that's what brings us to the current drama between the Brady Campaign and Schumer.
"When people make us a promise, we're going to hold them to it," Gross said.
But other gun-control advocates argue that pointing the finger at Schumer risks selling his work short, undermining his talent and upsetting one of their few true allies.
Gross said calling out Schumer was actually a sign of strength; gun-control advocates could hold their leaders' feet to the fire, and their leaders would have to listen, the argument goes. At the Brady Campaign's urging, Schumer's office got thousands of calls to release the bill. It's somewhat reminiscent of how the tea party has helped move the Republican Party to the right over the past few years by simply applying pressure to people on their side.
Schumer's office said they were waiting for the right strategic moment to release a background-check bill in the Senate. His spokesman, Matt House, said this in a statement Monday: "As the author of the Brady law, Sen. Schumer of course agrees that there should be universal background checks. To avoid any misunderstanding, he will introduce his universal background-check bill today."
Actually, that statement came out before the Brady campaign even got on a call with reporters. Gross had to give his whole previously announced spiel about why Schumer was neglecting his duty and, at the end, caveat that Schumer had actually said he'd release the bill.
Monday was a confusing day in the gun-control world.
More than anything else, it underscored that gun control is a movement, with all the warts and divisions that title entails. Everyone who criticized the Brady decision said these things happen sometimes when you have passionate people with different ideas about how to make progress.
On Monday, that division was on on full public display.