A major political battle is brewing in the United States over possible new gun control laws in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Some of those efforts, however, are likely to face opposition from the National Rifle Association, the most powerful American organization supporting gun rights.
At a rally outside the headquarters of the National Rifle Association near Washington hundreds protested against the pro-gun group.
The killing of young children by a man firing an assault weapon has reignited the debate over gun control and made the NRA a lightning rod for criticism.
Thirty-four Americans are killed every day by firearms, something New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls atrocious.
“This is just ridiculous. This is an outrage. We are killing each other, and we are the only industrialized country in the world doing it,” Bloomberg said.
But the political power of the NRA is legendary. Its four-million members strongly support the fundamental American right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Kathy Kiely is managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government transparency and tracks political contributions by the NRA.
“I think what has kept the NRA powerful and what has kept gun control out of the debate is they are still, within Washington, by politicians, a feared organization. They are feared because they can turn out the vote and they can turn on lots and lots of campaign contributions, either to support a politician or oppose a politician,” Kiely said.
Conservative columnist John Fund recently spoke about efforts to tighten gun laws on the NRA’s Webcast.
“The bottom line is the laws do not work. These mass killings are because of psychotic or mentally ill individuals,” Fund said.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner is a strong supporter of gun ownership and has been awarded the NRA's highest rating. But the carnage in Connecticut is having an impact.
“I, even as a NRA A-rated member believe enough is enough. We all need to come to the table and end up with appropriate restriction,” Warner said.
Warner is among several usually pro-gun members of Congress who have indicated they would consider voting for new restrictions on gun sales.
In the past, the NRA’s political muscle has produced significant results. As part of the backlash to a 1994 assault weapons ban, the group is widely credited with helping engineer a Republican Party takeover of Congress.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for Congress to reinstate the ban.
“We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try,” Obama said.
The NRA called the shootings “horrific and senseless” and said it is prepared to offer “meaningful contributions” to make sure similar incidents do not happen again.
Analyst Kathy Kiely says more than half of the members of the new Congress that convenes next month have received funding from the NRA.
“If politicians are hearing from voters, that counts more than dollars. If they do not hear from voters, it is the money that talks,” Kiely said.
It is not yet clear whether the school massacre will prompt a permanent turning point in the way Americans think about gun control.