A balloon displays some of the names of the victims of the
Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at a memorial in
Newtown, Connecticut. REUTERS/Joshua Lott
One week after a school shooting that shocked Americans -
with many of the 27 victims buried and time allowed for prayers
and investigation - the National Rifle Association will dive in
to the fierce national debate about gun control.
The largest U.S. gun rights lobby plans a well-coordinated
public entrance to the conversation on how to prevent such
tragedies, starting with a rare news conference today at a
hotel across the street from the White House.
NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre and President David Keene
will then appear on separate Sunday television talk shows for
their first interviews since gunman Adam Lanza killed his
mother, 20 young children and six adults in Newtown,
Connecticut, last Friday.
Inside and outside the NRA, an organization with powerful
ties to politicians in Washington, expectations are the group
will offer condolences and condemn the killings but offer
little in the way of compromise over gun laws.
The group kept largely quiet in the first days after the
Connecticut shooting, citing "common decency" and the need to
allow time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of
the facts. It broke its silence on Tuesday to say it wanted
to contribute meaningfully to prevent another massacre and
announced its plans for the Friday news conference.
"They will talk about how terrible the violence is, about
helping the victims, about violence in society," said Robert
Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York at
Cortland and author of "The Politics of Gun Control."
Spitzer said he did not expect the NRA media blitz to lay out
specific plans because so many within the organization
consider the right to own guns absolute.
"If they did, it would contradict the path they have been
following for about the last 35 years," he said. "Much of
their membership would declare war on their leaders."
One NRA board member, Houston lawyer Charles Cotton, said the
NRA should not say much until it hears more from gun-control
supporters like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"You can't say specifically what you want to do before you
sit around a table and talk about it," Cotton told Reuters.
NRA board member Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman, said
he was skeptical any new law would make a difference.
"None of the laws that the gun control folks want to put into
place would have prevented this shooting. I think that's
where we all start from," he said. Even proposed bans on guns
known as assault weapons would not cover all semi-automatic
rifles, he said.
America's unique gun culture means there are hundreds of
millions of firearms in the United States for hunting,
self-defense and leisure, as well as illicit uses. No one
knows how many guns there are because there is no national
About 11,100 Americans died in gun-related killings during
2011, not including suicides, according to preliminary data
from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 19,766 suicides by firearms in 2011, the CDC said.
The NRA uses political pressure against individual lawmakers
in Congress and in state legislatures to press for loosening
restrictions on gun sales and ownership while promoting
hunting and gun sports.
Gun-control proponents have been pushing for tighter gun
controls since the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, the
fourth mass shooting in the United States this year.
President Barack Obama has vowed to present a detailed plan
in January. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden held the
first meeting of an interagency effort among Cabinet members
and law enforcement officials.
"The president is absolutely committed to keeping the promise
that he will act," said Biden, who authored a crime bill in
1994 that included a ban on some semiautomatic rifles that
has since expired. "We have to take action," he said.
Democrats in Congress who favor gun control have called for
quick votes on measures to ban assault weapons or
high-capacity magazines, hoping that the slaying of the 6-
and 7-year olds in Newtown might be enough to win over more
Lanza used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, police said.
The NRA's power is partly due to its large and active
membership, which reportedly has been growing rapidly since
the Newtown shootings. NRA officials did not immediately
comment, but Fox News, citing a source within the
organization, said the group has been adding 8,000 new
members a day.
FLOODING LAWMAKERS WITH CALLS
The NRA is frequently described as having 4 million members,
although nonprofit groups are not required to disclose their
membership or how they define the term.
At key moments, such as before votes in Congress, many of
those members flood lawmakers' offices with calls - a tactic
few organizations can pull off, and one that the NRA's
opponents want to imitate.
Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group
co-led by Bloomberg, said his group orchestrated tens of
thousands of calls that jammed White House phones on
"It's the kind of thing that makes a difference in public
policy. It's the kind of thing the NRA does very well," Glaze
said. "And that's the kind of movement that we have to build
if we're going to make any kind of difference."
There is a vast difference in resources of the organizations
lining up in the gun debate.
During 2011, the NRA spent $3.1 million on lobbying lawmakers
and federal agencies, while all gun-control groups combined
spent $280,000 - a ratio of 11-to-one - according to records
the groups filed with Congress.
Some of the NRA's money goes to Washington lobbying and law
firms not usually associated with gun rights. SNR Denton, for
instance, represents not only the NRA but major insurance,
food and pharmaceutical companies. Lobbyists there did not
On another measure, that of spending on political campaigns,
gun-control organizations have been more competitive.
Independence USA PAC, a vehicle for Bloomberg's personal
fortune on issues including gun control, spent $8.2 million
on the 2012 election, compared to the NRA's $18.9 million,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, named for President
Ronald Reagan's press secretary James Brady who was injured
in a 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan, spent $5,816 on
the election, much lower than the $1.7 million it spent on
the 2000 election, according to the center.