WASHINGTON -- New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was gunned
down in a 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road, has sought
to outlaw so-called high-capacity ammunition magazines ever since
Congress let the ban on assault-style weapons expire in 2004.
measure never gained much traction, however, in the face of stiff
opposition from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights
groups. But after last week's massacre in Newtown, Conn., nearly two
dozen Democrats this week quickly added their names to the bill,
including several who previously have backed legislation favored by the
wave of public horror over the slaughter of 20 young children and six
adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School has spurred gun-control advocates
such as McCarthy to ramp up for one of their biggest legislative
battles in nearly two decades over guns and their role in American life.
The fight could pose one of the most serious challenges to the
National Rifle Association's political clout in years.
officials did not respond to interview requests, but in a statement
Tuesday on the slayings said that it is "prepared to offer meaningful
contributions to help make sure this never happens again." It plans a
news conference Friday in Washington.
rights supporters say those pushing for restrictions should not
underestimate the NRA's ability to mobilize its membership when
threatened with restrictions.
"The NRA has 4.3 million dues-paying
members who communicate with their representatives," said David Kopel,
an associate policy analyst at the Cato Institute and an NRA member. He
said the guns and ammunition Democrats are pushing to outlaw are
commonly used by millions of law-abiding Americans. "When the time comes
for a vote, there will be more and more senators and representatives
who find themselves reluctant to label their constituents evil people,"
However, gun-control advocates are questioning the NRA's
power to sway election results - despite its reputation as a political
powerhouse on Capitol Hill.
"I think the NRA is to a large extent
the Wizard of Oz," said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who this week called
for comprehensive gun-control legislation. "You can't point to a lot of
races where they have had an impact."
A review of campaign records
shows the gun-rights group had few victories at the ballot box in
November and saw its spending dramatically eclipsed by the other groups.
NRA pumped two-thirds of its independent spending in last month's
elections into defeating Obama. It spent more than $100,000 in nine
Senate contests, and the NRA's favored candidates won in three. In the
Ohio Senate race, it spent nearly $1 million to oppose Democratic Sen.
Sherrod Brown and back Republican rival Josh Mandel. Its ads
highlighted its "F" grade for Brown, citing his opposition to a slew of
pro-gun bills -- including a 2005 measure that would have blocked
lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
At the same time, the rise of
new super PACs diluted the NRA's influence in presidential and
congressional elections. The group ranked third in independent spending
during the 2008 campaign, before the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United
decision paved the way for unlimited corporate and union money for
independent advertising. This year, despite spending more money, the
NRA's rank fell to No. 12, according to data compiled by the
non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
By comparison, two
GOP-aligned groups created by former White House strategist Karl Rove
reported more than $175 million in last-minute independent spending,
roughly 10 times the amount reported by the NRA.
"When you have $2
billion spent in a presidential election, the $12 million to $20
million that the NRA can put up is chump change," said Mark Glaze,
director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group co-founded by New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg that promotes tougher gun regulation.
post-election assessment, the NRA's lobbying arm touted gains in state
contests and the passage of pro-gun amendments to state constitutions
in Louisiana, Idaho, Kentucky and Nebraska, but acknowledged that little
had changed in the nation's capitol.
"Prior to Tuesday, our
country had an anti-gun president, a questionable U.S. Senate majority,
and a pro-gun U.S. House majority," the group said in a statement.
"Today, America still has an anti-gun president, questionable U.S.
Senate majority, and pro-gun U.S. House majority. As Ronald Reagan once
famously said: 'Status quo is, you know, Latin for the mess we're in.' "
Records show the NRA spends far more on mobilizing its members than it does on political advertising.
Its 2010 tax return shows the not-for-profit group spent $57 million
that year on "member communications" and another $50 million on staff
salaries and benefits - swamping the $9.7 million it told the Federal
Election Commission it had invested in political contributions and
independent spending during that year's midterm elections for Congress.
member of Congress represents 600,000 people, and if they get 100
calls, they pay attention," said David Yassky, a New York taxi and
limousine commissioner, who helped draft the controversial 1994 assault
weapons ban as an aide to then-congressman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"That's why the NRA has been so powerful."
In the 1994 elections,
more than two dozen incumbent Democrats who had voted for the ban lost
their seats, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks,
The gun debate has not been central to federal elections
for more than a decade, said Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist who
now serves as president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association.
"I'm not going out on much of a limb to say that in 23 months, it will
make a huge difference in many races in this country in a way it hasn't
In all, 22 new supporters had joined McCarthy's bill this week. None was Republican.
Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a self-described Second Amendment supporter,
added his name to the bill Tuesday. Last year, he was one of 43
Democrats who backed an NRA-supported bill to make a state permit to
carry a concealed weapon valid in almost every other state.
McCarthy's measure would limit to 10 the number of rounds in a single magazine, requiring the shooter to pause to reload.
in the Newtown slayings said they recovered "numerous" empty 30-round
magazines for the Bushmaster rifle used in that shooting.
said his views on gun restrictions had "evolved" this year, starting
with a rampage in an Aurora, Colo., theater in July that killed 12 and
"Aurora really opened my eyes to the issues, and Newtown opened my heart to it," he said.