Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

NRA Hits the Legislative Trail With Guns Blazing

From the perspective of gun control advocates, the playing field is upside down. Their nemesis, the 138-year-old National Rifle Association, seems more powerful than ever.

Instead of a Democratic trifecta lending gun control the upper hand, it has energized the NRA, whose membership has grown 30 percent since the November elections.

And the NRA has been on the attack.

“We do whatever is necessary to win,” said Andrew Arulanandam, NRA’s director of public affairs. “We are proactively pushing a number of measures.”

So far, the NRA has hit many of its targets.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would rein in credit card interest fees along with a Republican-sponsored amendment permitting concealed weapons in national parks. Another pro-gun measure has entangled a D.C. voting rights bill, proof that Democrats aren’t keen on voting against the gun lobby.

But Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said those Democrats are living in the past, and predicted that Democratic pro-NRA sentiment would diminish.

This week, for example, progressive Members have aired their gripes over the pro-gun amendments coming out of the Senate.

And when a reporter asked Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday whether House Democrats could stand up to the NRA, Hoyer made a distinction between being “obligated” to the group and “agreeing” with its pro-gun positions.

“There may be ... Members who agree with them, but I would not use the word ... that they feel obligated to the NRA. They may agree with them, but there is a vast difference in those two positions.”

Helmke, however, noted that many Democratic Members who fear the gun lobby are misreading the political winds.

“In a way, they’re living in the past, living with this mythical ideal that gun control legislation was radioactive in the early ’90s,” he said. Still, Helmke acknowledges, it’s a challenging time for his side.

“It’s going to take a little while to work through that,” he said. “We’ve actually felt like we’d been making some progress over the last couple of election cycles — in ’06 and ’08, we don’t know anybody who lost ... because they were for common-sense gun control measures.”

At his acceptance speech in Denver, President-elect Barack Obama talked about protecting hunters’ rights while at the same time keeping assault weapons off the streets, Helmke added.

“I’m still hopeful that in the fall, after economic legislation is taken care of, the administration will support things like closing the gun show loophole and deal with military-style weapons that are available to the general public,” Helmke said.

Helmke and other gun-control groups are reaching out to new allies including environmental groups, mayoral associations, gay-rights organizations and other progressive causes that want to keep the pressure on Obama and Democrats.

“We definitely are talking to other groups that are going through these same frustrations with the new administration,” Helmke said. “We’re reaching out to other groups that want to make sure the progressive agenda doesn’t get pushed down the road too far.”

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