In the face of a Democratic-
controlled Congress and executive branch, the National Rifle Association is moving aggressively to push pro-gun legislation to the top of the Congressional agenda.
Working to maintain its pro-gun Democratic supporters, the NRA has been strategically pushing for Senators to add pro-gun amendments to high-profile legislation, including a provision that would have loosened D.C.s gun control laws on a voting rights bill and adding conceal-and-carry language to the Defense authorization bill.
NRA Executive Director Chris Cox says gun owners were blamed for everything from infectious disease to economic downturns in the 1990s.
What you have seen is when under attack, NRA members and American gun owners respond, Cox said of the 30 percent growth in NRA membership since the November elections.
That response has been borne out on Capitol Hill with Republicans taking up the mantle for the gun lobby.
People sense that a change has definitely happened in Washington as far as the Second Amendment, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said.
Ensign thwarted legislation in March that would grant Washington, D.C., a voting Member in the House by successfully adding an amendment that would undo the Districts strict gun-control laws.
People think it really makes a difference in elections, and when thats the perception, it tends to affect what happens on the floor, the former National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is up for re-election next year and replaced Ensign as Republican Policy Committee chairman in June, upset the Democratic majority last month when he offered an amendment that would have allowed gun owners with concealed-carry permits to bring firearms into other states with similar regulations.
The measure fell short of the 60 needed for passage on a 58-39 vote, which showcased the Democratic caucuss differing views on gun legislation.
While the partys more liberal Members hustled to defeat an amendment, Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and 19 of the Democrats more moderate Members half of whom were elected in 2006 or 2008 voted in favor.
The difficulty Congressional Democrats face on gun votes was on full display during the vote on the Thune amendment when Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) switched his vote to support the measure once it was clear it was going to fail.
You can see theres a lot of support, just not enough support yet, Ensign said of the measure, predicting it will be reintroduced again this year. We want to get it in. We just dont know where yet.
The NRAs Cox agrees.
While its disappointing that it fell two short of a procedural hurdle, it is a huge step forward, Cox said.
Democrats supportive of enhanced gun control acknowledge that even members of their own caucus will make beating back GOP measures difficult.
I think were coming to a point in time where theres got to be a showdown on the control the NRA has on policy, said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a staunch gun control advocate.
Indeed, Democrats have been prolific on the issue.