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Gun activism in politics

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Nov-03-18 Additional content

California Sen. Kamala Harris is using a gun control message to urge support for promising Democrats — even if the Democrat isn’t using curbs on guns as a big deal in his campaign.

Harris Wednesday sent out a fundraising email Wednesday afternoon calling for more than $125,000 to be donated to Democrat Josh Harder’s campaign for a tossup California House seat. Harris urged backers to fight Republicans supported by the National Rifle Association, such as Harder’s opponent Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

But Harder’s ads and public statements focus on economic issues, health care and immigration. His campaign website lists reducing gun violence as the ninth of 12 priorities on the page, and lists first that the rights of “responsible gun owners to be able to hunt and protect their home” needs to be respected.

“I don’t want to change anything for gun owners here in the Central Valley, but take our reforms and institute them nationwide,” the campaign website says.

Denham has supported looser gun regulations. He has co-sponsored a bill that would allow those licensed to carry a concealed firearm in one state to carry concealed in any state and another bill loosening restrictions on interstate gun purchases.

Denham is considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable Republicans. He represents a district that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. He has been heavily targeted by Democrats in their bid to flip the House.

The NRA Political Victory Fund publicly endorsed Denham in his 2016 race and its website indicated they also endorse him for 2018 and give him an “A” rating. The Brady Campaign, a group advocating for more gun regulation, has endorsed Harder.

A Denham campaign spokesman, who asked not to be named, when asked for comment, seized on the fundraising email as further proof Harder is a “Bay Area liberal,” a frequent criticism of Harder by Denham’s campaign.

“Josh Harder doesn’t support the Second Amendment,” the campaign spokesman said. “If he did he would reject this effort from Sen. Kamala Harris.”

Harris, who has been seriously considering a presidential run in 2020, has raised more than $5 million for Democratic candidates in 2018, according to office spokeswoman Lily Adams. In a single email last week, she reportedly raised more than $400,000 for vulnerable Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, after Heitkamp announced she would vote against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Other House members on Murphy and Harris’ list were Mike Levin, competing for the seat of retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California; Jacky Rosen, challenging Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada; Susan Wild, in the race for a redistricted Pennsylvania House seat without an incumbent; Lizzie Fletcher, challenging Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas; Jennifer Wexton, challenging Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia; Jason Crow, challenging Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado; and Collin Allred, challenging Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.

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When Missouri Senate Bill 656 was introduced in 2016, it was relatively modest legislation that proposed capping the amount county sheriffs could charge for a concealed handgun permit.

By the time it passed, with both houses of the Legislature overturning the governor’s veto, it had become one of the most expansive gun-rights laws in the country.

The gun lobby fought hard to pass the bill. The group some lawmakers credited with providing crucial momentum was not so much the National Rifle Association, the powerful national lobbying organization, but rather the Missouri Firearms Coalition, an aggressive grassroots operation founded in 2015.

With major gun-rights legislation stalled in Washington, much of the action has shifted to the states, where self-described “no compromise” groups such as the Missouri Firearms Coalition have mobilized activists in favor of pro-gun laws, according to Reuters interviews with gun-rights groups in more than a dozen states, lawmakers and NRA supporters.

These groups have become increasingly active in promoting a pro-gun agenda in many states, unafraid of alienating lawmakers who waver on gun rights. In many cases, they say they would rather lose a legislative fight on principle than compromise and support a watered-down bill.

At times, this can put local groups at odds with the NRA, which some see as too willing to give ground on the most aggressive pro-gun laws in state legislatures, said Greg Pruett, president of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, which formed in 2012.

“It’s always kind of interesting when you see a lot of people in the gun control community talk about how radical the NRA is,” said Pruett, whose group organized an email and telephone campaign to pass a 2016 Idaho law allowing people to carry concealed handguns without a permit, also known as “constitutional carry.”

“There’s an entire movement on the other side of the NRA. ... We’re done compromising,” he said.

Missouri Firearms Coalition political adviser Aaron Dorr says the NRA fought against constitutional carry for years, considering it too much of a long shot, and only came on board once passage was certain. The Missouri law not only authorized constitutional carry, it made Missouri a “stand-your-ground” state, extending the right to lethal self-defense outside the home, even when retreating is an option.

“It was the Missouri Firearms Coalition that was on the ground first with this,” said Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa. “Eventually, the NRA came on board, but the Missouri Firearms Coalition was the one that pushed it.”

The NRA contended that it supported Senate Bill 656 from start to finish. The NRA assesses legislation across the states and sometimes opts for incremental victories, spokesman Lars Dalseide said.

“While the ‘all or nothing’ approach may sound noble, the fact is you usually end up with nothing,” Dalseide said. “The other groups may have called for the passage of these bills in the past but they are largely fundraising organizations .... None of these legislative initiatives moved an inch until the NRA got involved.”

State groups proliferate

State-level alternatives to the NRA have proliferated this decade and are active in at least 15 states. Many groups claim tens of thousands of members, citing their own email lists or social media data. Reuters could not verify the membership and no independent data exist that show the size of the groups.

CJ Grisham, who founded Open Carry Texas in 2013, said organizations like his were established to fill a void left by the NRA. “I would not have formed Open Carry Texas if the NRA was doing its job,” he said.

The most uncompromising among them say the NRA has become too timid and too willing to back measures such as removing firearms from people deemed dangerous.

“I call it pre-emptive concession,” said Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, which has helped expand concealed carry rights and a stand-your-ground law.

Still, even its critics in the gun-rights movement concede the NRA, with more than 5 million members, is by far the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby. It has protected firearms manufacturers from liability for gun violence and pushed a ban on U.S. health officials from promoting gun control. In 2005, it shepherded through Florida’s landmark stand-your-ground law, then repeated the feat in nearly half the states.

With a national network of lobbyists, the NRA works closely with legislators behind the scenes, while the state groups often rely on members to pressure representatives.

From 2015 to 2017, seven states passed constitutional carry laws, including Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Missouri, where local groups not affiliated with the NRA claim significant roles in getting the legislation passed. It is now the law in a dozen states.

In Jefferson City, former Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, had been interested in making Missouri a constitutional carry state since 2014.

The NRA, while supportive, was unconvinced the legislation could pass and wanted to “focus on other issues,” Burlison said.

When Senate Bill 656 arrived in the House in 2016, Burlison decided it was time to press for a much bolder law, adding both constitutional carry and “stand your ground” provisions.

Though he credited the NRA for eventually supporting the legislation, he said the Missouri Firearms Coalition actively corralled support.

“It really added octane to the tank when other groups started forming and other people got involved,” Burlison said. “The biggest group clearly was Missouri Firearms Coalition. To me, all politics is local. More legislators pay attention to their local organizations and individuals.”

Students and outside activists gathered on Capitol Hill Sunday to honor the anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre and demand national gun reform.

The event, which featured a vigil for the 58 victims of the Las Vegas shooting and a rally to change gun laws, was organized by freshman Eve Levinson, junior Ethan Somers and other GW students on behalf of Shattering The Silence D.C., a gun control activism group.

“One year ago, the deadliest mass shooting in our country history took the lives of 58 people and forever changed the lives of hundreds,” Levinson said, addressing the crowd. “Today we honor them by remembering their names, their faces and their stories, and by taking action to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.”

Shaheera Jalil Albasit, a graduate student whose cousin Sabika was among the 10 victims of the Sante Fe High School shooting in Texas in May, read the name of each victim of the Las Vegas shooting. Albasit also said attendees should vote out sitting members of Congress who refuse to take action against gun violence, a repeated theme for speakers at the rally.

“The only one way to ensure that everyone who has been lost to gun violence in this country actually gets justice is by depriving those people in the building of the power that makes them feel smug,” she said, gesturing to the Capitol Building.

Holding signs saying “Our lives over NRA money” and “Disarm Hate,” protestors shared their own experiences with gun violence. One activist, Jaxon O’Mara, said she attended the event to honor her friend Jaelynn Willey, who was killed in a shooting that took two lives at Great Mills High School in Maryland.

“When I found that out, my best friend and I collapsed on the floor crying,” she said.

Havana Chapman-Edwards, a second-grader who was the only student at her Alexandria, Va., school to participate in the National School Walkout in April, emphasized the importance of youth involvement in the fight against gun violence. She said age never disqualifies an active voice for change.

“I am here to tell the world once again, kids are never too little to make a difference,” she said. “I am taking action in my community by fighting for girl’s education because I know that a girl with a book is unstoppable.”

Robert Disney, the organizing director of the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, said he had nieces and nephews who attended Columbine High School in 1999 where two teenagers killed 13 students and themselves. He said he attended the rally to combat the power of the National Rifle Association.

“I’m here because I’m sick of the way the NRA has a chokehold on Congress,” he said. “I think for the first time in my lifetime, we have a chance to break of the chokehold, and I am doing everything I can to help that to happen.”

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DMU Timestamp: September 17, 2018 17:21

Added November 03, 2018 at 5:19am by Dr. Roy
Title: Additional content

Rare drop in elections as gun-limit groups rise

WASHINGTON (AP) - The National Rifle Association - long seen as a kingmaker in Republican politics - is taking a lower profile in this year's high-stakes midterm campaign, a sign of the shifting dynamics of the gun debate as the GOP fights to maintain its grip on Congress.

The NRA has put $11 million into midterm races this year - less than half what it spent four years ago in a campaign that gave Republicans full control of Congress. This year's totals are also far below the $54 million the group spent in 2016 on both the presidential and congressional races.

The shift comes as spending to support tougher gun control measures has surged. Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pledged $30 million for this year's election, and has continued to put new money into competitive races in the final days. A political action committee formed by Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman wounded in a shooting, is spending nearly $5 million.

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It's the first time under current campaign finance laws that the NRA might be outspent by gun control groups, though the organization often ramps up spending late in the campaign. That money won't show up in federal financial reports until after Election Day.

It all underscore a changing political landscape on guns after a series of election year mass shootings, including the February massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead, and Saturday's deadly attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

"The politics of guns has changed," said Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist think tank. "The groups supporting more gun safety restrictions are smarter than in the past and have more resources, both in terms of people and money, than in the past."

With polls showing that the majority of Americans now support at least some tightening of gun laws, the issue is no longer taboo in swing districts, particularly the suburban areas that could determine which party controls the House next year. Everytown and Giffords' group are on the air in competitive districts in Texas, Virginia, Kansas and elsewhere.

After the Pittsburgh shooting, a Bloomberg aide said Everytown bought another $700,000 in advertisements aimed at ousting Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable Republican who represents a suburban Denver district - a significant sum to spend on a single House race in one week.

The group has also spent about $4 million in the Atlanta suburbs to back Democrat and gun control advocate Lucy McBath, whose son was shot and killed in 2012.

Despite the public polling, there are no guarantees that sending more pro-gun control lawmakers to Washington would result in tougher legislation. Modest measures have repeatedly been blocked in Congress, even as Americans have grown more supportive of steps like banning assault weapons and tightening background checks.

Bloomberg, who is weighing a run for president as a Democrat in 2020, promises to keep up the pressure on lawmakers and candidates he's backing if they end up on Capitol Hill.

"I've put an awful lot of my money and an awful lot of my time into this," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm not going to forget it. I'm not going to walk away."

He continued: "The nice thing about the House, it may be a stupidly designed system but if they don't do what they said they were going to do, you get another crack at deciding to support them or somebody else two years from now."

An NRA spokeswoman would not comment on the group's election spending compared to organizations pushing for stricter gun laws.

Bloomberg, who is spending $120 million on the midterms, has helped pro-gun control groups level a playing field long dominated by the NRA.

The organization was riding high after the 2016 election, with a strong supporter in the White House and Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate.

But 2018 has proved to be a tumultuous year for the NRA, which has been faced with boycotts from parts of corporate America in the wake of mass shootings and an investigation into what federal authorities allege were covert Russian agents seeking to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump by courting NRA officials and funneling money through the group.

Publicly, the NRA has portrayed itself as being in financial distress because of deep-pocketed liberal opposition to guns and what it calls the mainstream media "spewing toxic lies" about the group. Over the summer, the organization raised its annual dues fees from $40 to $45 - the second increase in two years.

NRA watchers dismiss the notion that the organization is in trouble and say it's more of a ploy to energize its ardent supporters, which in turn could help bring in more donations.

"It's in the NRA's interests to exaggerate how much trouble it's in," said Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on guns and the Second Amendment.

Indeed, the group's political fundraising is up this year compared to the last midterm election. According to data provided by an NRA official, the group's Political Victory Fund has raised more than $12 million this year compared to nearly $11 million at this same point in the 2014 midterms.

While the NRA is not pumping the same levels of money into this year's elections, it still has much at its disposal to try to sway campaigns: its NRATV media arm, social media and an ability to mobilize its millions of members to get them to the polls.

The NRA's membership rolls and finances are not public, but the organization has said it has about 6 million in its ranks. Those who closely watch the group believe its membership is closer to 4 million.

Both the NRA and groups such as Everytown can also quietly influence elections with money that doesn't have to be reported in publicly available campaign finance reports.

DMU Timestamp: November 02, 2018 17:13

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