The NRA Is Beating President Obama on Gun Control

by Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast  |  published on April 5, 2013

Gun safety advocates are getting a wakeup call this week, with two measures that just days ago seemed almost certain to pass are now looking iffy in the Senate.

Big majorities of Americans across partisan lines, including gun owners, support expanded background checks on gun buyers, but talks to reach a bipartisan compromise are stuck on the issue of record-keeping. Only licensed gun dealers keep records, not the federal government, but the National Rifle Association warns that expanding background checks to all private and commercial sales is a first step toward federal confiscation of guns.

A companion bill to stiffen penalties for gun trafficking, which had enjoyed broad support, is also being systematically weakened by NRA opposition. “This is an old trick of theirs that they still perform well,” says Jim Kessler, a veteran of Capitol Hill and a co-founder of the centrist Democratic group Third Way. “They attach seemingly innocuous language to legislation to make laws either toothless or open the door to weaker gun policies.”

On the gun-trafficking measure, the NRA is pressing friendly lawmakers to add legislative language that would raise the standard for prosecution to require knowledge that the weapon being purchased is intended for use in a crime.

President Obama travels to Colorado on Wednesday to speak at a Police Academy not far from the Aurora movie theater where last year’s mass shooting occurred. Despite frequent events focused on gun safety—including an emotional appeal at the White House last week surrounded by mothers who’d lost children—Obama has been criticized for not moving fast enough after the Newtown tragedy, relying instead on a divided and balky Senate to act.

“What we’re facing is the passion gap, and that’s what the president is trying to fix,” says Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). The poll numbers argue for new gun laws, but advocates for gun safety have been unable to translate polling strength into legislative action.

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