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A Better-Funded Movement Is Growing To Counter The NRA


The year since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has led to a less favorable political landscape for the National Rifle Association. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, and many ran on platforms contrary to the NRA. For the first time now, a growing and better-funded movement now exists to counter the gun rights group. NPR's Tim Mak has more on the NRA's changing influence.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: After his daughter's death in Parkland, Fla. - one year ago tomorrow - Fred Guttenberg sat in his house grieving.

FRED GUTTENBERG: To me, I thought the first thing I need to do is to remove the grip of the gun lobby. And I walked around my house kind of, like, in a daze, saying to anybody who will listen, we're going to go after their money.

MAK: Parkland motivated people like him to get active in politics, joining a growing movement led by Everytown For Gun Safety, an adversary to the NRA founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This is the first sustained, well-funded opposition that the NRA has ever faced. And the gun rights group acknowledges this. Here's a spokesperson for the NRA's lobbying arm, Jennifer Baker.

JENNIFER BAKER: What has changed is that for the first time the gun control groups are well-funded and have efforts nationwide. They have an infinite amount of resources as they are funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is decidedly anti-gun. And so he has allowed these organizations to have a presence in the state capitals on lobbying and to really put forth an effort we've never seen.

MAK: For decades, the National Rifle Association has been a driving political force. Its large grassroots membership alone gives its positions heavy weight. In an interview with NPR, their spokesperson put its membership between 5 and 6 million.

BAKER: We have more dues-paying members than any other grassroots organization in the world.

MAK: But last week, the House Judiciary Committee held the first hearing on gun violence in eight years, a reflection of the new Democratic House majority. And today, that same committee is marking up legislation expanding background checks for firearm sales, something polls suggest most Americans support. The bill's supporters argue that the legislation's consideration alone indicates a changing national conversation about gun issues.

JOHN FEINBLATT: It was considered the third rail of American politics.

MAK: That's John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown For Gun Safety.

FEINBLATT: That was true for Democrats, it was true for Republicans - no more.

MAK: And the NRA is mired in a Senate investigation into whether it worked with Russia to influence American politics in 2016. Feinblatt also points out that the NRA spent less money in the 2018 midterms than in previous midterms.

FEINBLATT: The NRA staged a disappearing act. They were really nowhere to be seen compared to previous years.

MAK: The NRA counters that all of these supposed changes are just hype, that polling on background checks overstates its support, that their lower fundraising is a reflection of how their supporters feel less threatened with Trump as president. And the NRA does not believe that new gun restrictions will go anywhere because of allies in the Republican-controlled Senate. And they also point to a Supreme Court where they believe they have a majority on gun rights issues.

BAKER: Practically speaking, the landscape has not changed for the prospect of enacting federal gun control. In the Senate, they don't have the 60 votes that they need, and there is a pro-Second Amendment president in the White House. But what has changed is that we now have a majority of Supreme Court justices who are originalists.

MAK: And Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, agrees and says that not only will gun legislation not pass into law but that the push from Democrats will also energize NRA supporters.

RICHARD FELDMAN: That's what gets them activated. That's what gets them motivated. That's what gets them to send much higher contributions to the very groups that are dedicated to protect that issue.

MAK: One year after the Parkland shooting, the political realities are changing, but the National Rifle Association remains a force to be reckoned with. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "LEGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 12, 2019 at 11:00 PM CST
In an earlier version of this report, we mistakenly referred to John Feinblatt as John Greenblatt.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.