By Dianne Eckstein, Central Coast Ceasefire and National Organization for Women member

December 15, 2015

It is utterly impossible to discuss the 2nd amendment with those who want no restrictions on gun purchases.  After Sandy Hook, which was exactly three years ago last Monday, I began a conversation group on what we could do to stop such horror.  The only agreement that the gun rights side could agree to was that Sandy Hook was a tragedy.  Second Amendment guys and gals blamed mental health and video games. They blamed gun free zones.
We talked about mental health with Barbara Turrell. We learned that there are more victims of violence than perpetrators that have mental health problems. Ensuring more access to mental health care will cost the community more than it pays now.  People who oppose gun safety laws protested any monetary cost they might need to bear. Paying for mental health care was also a non starter.
In the mean time, since Sandy Hook, there have been 555 children, under the age of 12, killed by firearms. There has been a mass shooting (defined as at least four people shot) for every day this year.
A conversation about gun safety laws is impossible because too many gun owners share the opinion voiced by Rich Fix in the News Times: “Greater deterrence of mass shootings and violent crime can be accomplished by an armed society, which is growing.”
Growing it is. Fear and fear mongering are great political tactics, and many citizens have become victims of fear. Ted Cruz has added to the fear mongering with his statement that gun ownership is the “ultimate check against government tyranny.”
No, we cannot have a rational discussion on gun sales, background checks, no-fly lists, types of arsenals, numbers of weapons and ammunition. We can’t and that is the worst news.
I don’t know what it will take, but something must be done. I am sure that letters will follow arguing things like how many people have been killed, but for me, Sandy Hook remains the key to my  commitment to changing things. Anti-gun safety people say that more guns will make people safer.  We have more guns, but we are not safer. What other ideas do they have?

End the Gun Epidemic in America

It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.

White House half mast

All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of innocents, in California. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are searching for motivations, including the vital question of how the murderers might have been connected to international terrorism. That is right and proper.

But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.

It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.

Opponents of gun control are saying, as they do after every killing, that no law can unfailingly forestall a specific criminal. That is true. They are talking, many with sincerity, about the constitutional challenges to effective gun regulation. Those challenges exist. They point out that determined killers obtained weapons illegally in places like France, England and Norway that have strict gun laws. Yes, they did.

But at least those countries are trying. The United States is not. Worse, politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs. It is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically — eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition.

It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.

Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.

What better time than during a presidential election to show, at long last, that our nation has retained its sense of decency?

The Opinion Pages/Editorial

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

How many guns are in America? A web of state secrecy means no one knows

A majority of states actively restrict access to information on gun permits, the FBI must destroy background checks and Congress bans funding for research

 People look at handguns at a gun show in Chantilly, Virginia, earlier this month. Nationwide the number of guns is literally countless. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

People look at handguns at a gun show in Chantilly, Virginia, earlier this month. Nationwide the number of guns is literally countless. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

The American Public Health Association will join the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in a national summit in Washington DC to tackle gun violence. They describe the issue as “one of the biggest public health issues facing America”.

But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the state of gun research.

Ask one of the dozen or so active firearms researchers in the United States, and they won’t be able to answer the fundamental question: how many guns are in America?

In addition to a 1996 ban on federal funding for firearms research that is cited as one of the most onerous obstacles to treating gun violence as a public health issue, states have passed dozens of laws in just the past five years that make once-public data on gun ownership confidential.

The best available data comes from a private survey by the University of Chicago, not the federal government, and that is still an estimate, finding that 79 million US households have guns. Other surveys have estimated there are between 270 and 310m guns.

“There are lots of holes in actually having any data on the number of guns in our communities,” said Fred Rivara, head of pediatrics at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital and a firearms researcher for almost three decades. “You look at, well, are people with mental health problems more likely to have guns, or are people with past problems more likely to have guns, we don’t know because we don’t have that data.”

States have not made the job easier.

From Florida to Maine to West Virginia to Wyoming, a variety of provisions have exempted concealed-carry permit data from public disclosure or stopped permitting altogether. For researchers, these provisions make it impossible to study guns within a given zip code or cohorts of owners who might have run-ins with the law.

“The fact of the matter is we know how many people own cars, we know the identity of every car in the United States … Yet we don’t know who owns guns, and we don’t know how many guns there are in the United States,” said Rivara.

“When I first started in gun research back in 1987, we could actually go down to the state capitol in Olympia [Washington] and identify through state records at that point who owns guns,” said Rivara. “That ability was subsequently removed.”

As of 2013, 28 states, including Washington, don’t allow access to gun permit records. Some states, such as Vermont, Wyoming and Kansas, removed permitting requirements.Iowa has worked for years to make gun permit data more secretive. Two counties in the state lent the legislature a hand by destroying all permit applications. New York tightened public access to gun permits after a newspaper north of New York City published a map of permit holders’ names and addresses. In the past five years dozens of laws have exempted concealed-carry permits and applications and gun licenses from public disclosure or made them confidential.

Take one state as an example: Louisiana.

Louisiana has the second-worst firearms death rate in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, topped only by Alaska. In 2013, 19.3 people per 100,000 died because of a firearms-related injury for every 100,000 people in the state. That rate is equivalent to 14.7 people dying at a single New Orleans Saints football game (where the stadium seats roughly 76,000).

The same year, in addition to repealing state bans on machine guns, legislators made concealed-carry permit records confidential and allowed for issuance of lifetime concealed-carry permits. At its most basic level, that means researchers will never know how many concealed-carry permit holders, including those licensed for life, there are in the state.

But that wasn’t far enough for legislators in the state. Louisiana lawmakers also made it a misdemeanor criminal offense to release information about concealed-carry permit holders – levying a $500 fine and up to six months in jail for any department of public safety and corrections employee who releases such records, and a $10,000 fine and six months in jail for anyone else who releases that information.

Firearms dealers in Louisiana are alsonot required to retain background checks or sales records, meaning that if a dealer chooses not to record such transactions there is no way for researchers (or anyone else) to trace guns or oversee the efficacy of background checks.

Some federal data has also disappeared. A firearms trace databaseoperated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives once used to publicly shame gun retailers who sold to criminals was made confidential in the early 2000s. And the FBI is required to destroy all background checks.

These state and federal restrictions have compounded challenges for the already-barren field of gun research, which has been barred from federal funding.

In 2013, following the massacre of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, Barack Obama signed an executive order that was supposed to lift the ban on firearms research. Congress, however, turned down the president’s request to fund the research.

In firearms violence research, this has been the state of affairs since 1996. At a time when gun violence was among the highest in American history, Congress defunded firearms research and passed a provision many researchers believe had a deep, chilling effect on the pursuit of answers.

At the time, a series of papers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became a hot-button issue after scientists began to view gun violence as a public health issue.

One such paper was co-authored by Rivara in 1993. Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and found that gun owners were more likely to be the victims of homicide, than protected from it. This research drew particular ire in Congress.

“We have here an attempt by the CDC, through the [National Center for Injury Prevention and Control] a disease control agency of the federal government [trying] to bring about gun control advocacy all over the United States,” Arkansas Republican representative Jay Dickey told colleagues during a hearing on his namesake amendment.

The rider, stipulating that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the [CDC] may be used to advocate or promote gun control”, would stop research into gun violence for the next two decades.

The CDC, Dickey argued, was trying “to raise emotional sympathy for those people who are for gun control”. Congress also yanked $2.6m in funding from the CDC, even as 1.1 million Americans fell victim to gun crime that year alone (In 2011, 439,100 were victims).

Even Democrats acquiesced to Dickey’s amendment. Lobbying colleagues to restore funding, New York DemocratNita Lowey told House colleagues: “Our amendment preserves language in the bill which prohibits the CDC from advocating or promoting gun control.”

“The NRA opposes the CDC injury control research because it wants to suppress the awful truth about gun violence. The NRA simply does not want the facts getting out. It is no more than censorship. It must be stopped,” Lowey said.

Despite her efforts, Dickey’s amendment passed, and firearms research ground to a halt. Nineteen years later, in the wake of a mass shooting inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Lowey lobbied for the removal of the same rider she had once been willing to live with to restore funding.

“Preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly,” she said at a hearing, before Congress re-upped (again) the requirement that the CDC not lobby for gun control.

Now, despite $130m in “violence research” grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health, no studies explicitly looked at firearms. Nor did any of the $59m in grants devoted to “youth violence” or the $16m that went to “youth violence prevention”.

“The lack of research has been so detrimental because not only do we not have the research funding, another thing I think that’s really important is that it’s been a huge blow to the trained workforce,” said Susan Sorenson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who studies gun violence as a public health issue.

In the United States, researchers are required to generate their own grant funding for projects, including for lab time, salaries and equipment.

“If there’s no funding, that researcher simply is not going to have a job, so they go into fields that are more heavily funded – cancer, tobacco, HIV – simply because they too need to be able, like all humans, to eat, to have a place to live,” Sorenson said.

As scientists struggle to rebuild a field Sorenson called “nascent”, some surprising funding streams have stepped forward.

The Seattle city council funded research studying whether people who go to the hospital for gunshots were likely to later be the victims of violence (they are). The Chicago-based Joyce Foundation is cited by researchers as one of the only private foundations willing to provide money for research, and firearms researcher Dr Gary Wintemute donated about $1.1m of his own money to fund his research.

“Better data, and data systems, are needed. Interventions must be evaluated, and those evaluations must help guide further efforts,” wrote Wintemute in aneditorial for the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Until we revitalize firearm violence research, studies using available data will often be the best we have. They are not good enough.”
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Gun Safety Proclamation Splits Depoe Bay City Council

Gun Safety Proclamation Splits Depoe Bay City Council

From left, Depoe Bay City Councilor Zeke Olsen, Mayor A.J. Mattila and Councilor Robert Gambino. The three council members voted against a gun safety proclamation this week. Mattila said it violated the First and Second amendments. (Photo by Larry Coonrod)

By Larry Coonrod

DEPOE BAY-After unanimously approving $5,000 in unrequested funds for the Neighbors for Kids organization, the Depoe Bay City Council on Tuesday narrowly passed a proclamation encouraging adults to keep guns away from children’s reach.

Representatives from the Asking Saves Kids (ASK) campaign presented the proclamation declaring June 21 as National ASK Day in Depoe Bay. The campaign aims to prevent the accidental shooting of children by other children.

“Basically the ask campaign simply suggests that caretakers of children make a point of when kids are playing away from home to ask whether the guns where they are playing are locked up,” campaign supporter Monica Kirk told the council.

Mayor A.J. Mattila declared that after having consulted an attorney he could not support the proclamation.

“I personally feel I would be in violation of the Second Amendment rights and also First Amendment infringement,” he said. “My vote is going to have to be no.”

State Rep. David Gomberg in a June 1 letter asked the mayor to support the proclamation. Gomberg said the campaign has partnered with over 400 grassroots organizations and the American Academy of Pediatrics to successfully inspire 19 million households to ask if there are unsecured guns where there children play.

Councilor Robert Gambino said as a gun owner that he was quite vocal about asking neighbors where his three children played if guns were locked up.

“Every one of us should be doing this all the time…it’s responsible gun ownership,” he said. “The only problem I have is that in general these things tend to have affiliation with anti-gun sentiment and I’m against that.”

Gambino was referring to the Cease Fire Oregon organization.

The Cease Fire Oregon Educational Foundation is a nonprofit organization that advocates gun safety through education and gun turn in days. It is affiliated with Cease Fire Oregon, which works to reduce gun violence by lobbying for legislation such as universal background checks for all firearm purchases, including those between private parties.

“The ASK Campaign is not affiliated with Cease Fire except to the extent that Cease Fire bought our brochures,” Kirk said. None of the information about ASK speaks to anything other than responsible gun ownership.

Councilor Brent Berry, in a rare break from voting in lockstep with Olsen, Mattila and Gambino voiced his support for the proclamation.

“I believe everybody who has a right has a responsibility,” Berry said. “I think everybody should own a gun but everybody should be responsible for that weapon, too. I’ve asked my neighbors where my kids play.”

In a 4-3 vote, the council approved the proclamation with councilors Berry, Dorinda Goddard, Skip Hoitink and Barbara Leff casting the yes votes.

Mattila said despite being opposed to National ASK Day proclamation he would sign it on behalf of the city.

In other business the council:
Passed a $1.7 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2014-15, which begins July 1.
Appropriated $4,999 from the budget as a charitable contribution to Neighbors for Kids. The nonprofit had not requested funding, but the council provided the money at the insistence of Mayor Mattila. A vote on the contribution passed 4-3, with Goddard, Leff and Hoitink opposed.
Approved a contract for services of up to $4,999 with the Depoe Chamber of Commerce for tourism promotion.
Agreed to move forward with a request for proposal related to rehabilitating the city’s abandoned harbor fish plant. Living Pacific Seafood has expressed interest in starting a processing operation in the plant.
Decided to delay moving forward with implementing marijuana rules until after the city receives federal funding for harbor dredging. Some councilors expressed concern that because the federal government considers marijuana an illegal narcotic, allowing a dispensary could jeopardize money budgeted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the harbor this year.

Contact Reporter Larry Coonrod by emailing

Why Aren’t We Doing More to Keep Women Safe From Gun Violence?

Why Aren't We Doing More to Keep Women Safe From Gun Violence?

Shannon Watts Become a fan
Founder, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Updated: 06/02/2014 5:59 pm EDT

The tragic shooting in Santa Barbara last week sparked an important conversation: why aren’t we doing more to keep women safe?

For too long, women have been left out of the discussion about gun violence. We’re 54 percent of the electorate, but only 19 percent of Congress. We account for only 24 percent of all state legislators nationwide. Clearly, the laws allowing our country’s culture of gun violence are not being made by the mothers who lose eight children and teens every day to a gunshot.

And yet, ironically, our weak federal and state gun laws disproportionately affect women. American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. On average, 46 women are shot to death by a current or former husband or boyfriend every month. And those mass shootings that that occur in America with startling regularity? Fifty-seven percent of them involve domestic violence.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The data we’ve collected proves that stronger gun laws actually save women’s lives. In the 16 states that have done what Congress refuses to do — close the background checks on unlicensed gun sales — 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.

So why for decades has the NRA’s leaders and lobbyists actually fought against women’s best interests by working to keep guns in the hands of domestic abusers? They’ve led the opposition to proposals that would require that those subject to court-issued restraining orders relinquish their firearms. They claim nothing short of a felony conviction should restrict someone’s right to gun ownership — not even “mere issuance of court orders,” as one NRA lobbyist put it.

But in 2014, American women fought back against the NRA, and we are winning the fight to strengthen the laws on our states’ books.

Two conservative, pro-NRA governors — Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal — both signed bills into law this year that will keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers — legislation the NRA previously opposed but remained silent on this year. Wisconsin’s new law will ensure that domestic abusers comply with the law that prohibits them from possessing guns. Louisiana’s law will prohibit domestic violence offenders from possessing firearms, and, in turn, protect more women and families in a state that regularly leads the nation in domestic homicides per capita. Washington State, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Vermont also all passed similar bipartisan legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Putting these laws on the books — in states with strong traditions of gun ownership — is a turning point for American women. The group I founded, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is only 18 months old, but we are making substantial progress. As women and mothers collectively keep the pressure on Congress to act, our wins at the state level will keep adding up.

But the momentum isn’t confined to state capitols. Senator Klobuchar has written a sensible bill that would add domestic abusers and stalkers to the list of individuals prohibited from purchasing a gun. Strengthening the protections women have from convicted stalkers is critical because 9 in 10 attempted murders of women involve at least one incident of stalking in the year before the attempted murder.

As legislative sessions in states as different as Wisconsin, Louisiana, Washington, New Hampshire, and Minnesota have made clear, the future for the NRA’s brand of obstruction at any cost — including the lives of mothers and daughters — looks grim. Good gun laws make for good politics, too — and legislators and candidates for elected office, no matter their political parties, would do well to take note, because women and moms are paying attention.

In an election year – and perhaps, recognizing that trying to sell more guns to women while advocating on behalf of domestic abusers wasn’t a sound strategy – the NRA backed down from such an extreme and irresponsible position. But it took a movement of angry, fed-up Americans to tear down their resistance.

We’ve long had public opinion on our side (as a recent POLITICO poll confirmed). And now we’ve racked up real wins in states across the country. It’s time to take that political capital to the bank: It’s time for women and mothers to ask their elected leaders “Who do you side with, me or the NRA?”

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Inside the Power of the N.R.A. –

Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. took a hard line after the Newtown shootings.

via Inside the Power of the N.R.A. –

To get to Joe Manchin’s private office in the Hart Senate Office Building, you first pass through a lobby where you encounter a small bronze statue of an Old West lawman holding a firearm — an award given to Manchin several years ago by a chapter of the National Rifle Association for his unswerving defense of gun rights. Then you turn down a hallway, past several framed photographs of children who were victims of the massacre a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The combination of the bronze rifleman in the lobby and the young faces on the wall suggests a particular viewpoint — I stand with gun lovers; I stand with victims of gun violence — that qualifies, in Washington anyway, as being nuanced, which is to say politically ill advised if not suicidal.

Even sitting behind his stately wooden desk in a suit and tie, Manchin, who is 66, possesses the craggy appearance of a small-town sheriff. As he proclaimed to me one morning in September, “I enjoy my guns, and my family enjoys their guns.” And indeed, Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, won election to the U.S. Senate in 2010 partly on the strength of a memorable TV ad depicting him firing a bullet through President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill that had been anathema to coal miners in his state. But Manchin’s outlook changed the day he came back from a hunting trip last December, having learned of the 20 children and six adults slaughtered at Sandy Hook. That unique horror motivated him in a way that other recent mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora, Colo., had not.

“To sit here and do nothing, I could’ve done that all day long,” Manchin said. “Let this be the happy retirement home.” Instead, for the first time in his 30-year political career, he acted against the N.R.A.’s wishes. He introduced legislation that would require universal background checks for commercial sales. Background checks have been federally mandated for firearm purchases from licensed dealers since 1994. The bill would have extended them to gun shows and all Internet sales. Manchin was aware that universal background checks would not have prevented the Newtown killings, because the shooter, Adam Lanza, used firearms that were legally purchased by his mother. Nonetheless, a confluence of factors at the time favored his efforts: a newly re-elected Democratic president personally stung by the gun tragedies that took place on his watch; a fractious and self-doubting Republican Party; the seemingly bottomless financial resources of the New York mayor and ardent gun-control advocate Michael Bloomberg, whose alliance of more than a thousand mayors throughout the United States, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, would sponsor an aggressive wave of TV ads; and the forceful but sympathetic lobbying presence of Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who had been shot in the head in Tucson, along with the voices of the Newtown parents whose children were killed. Given this climate and the overwhelming public support for universal background checks, even the N.R.A. was braced for the passage of some version of Manchin’s gun-control bill.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia came to support a gun-control bill.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia came to support a gun-control bill.
But no version did pass. Four months after the Newtown shooting, on April 17, the bill failed to win the necessary votes to make it through the Senate. The most fearsome lobbying organization in America prevailed once again. Other victories would soon follow. On the day before I visited Manchin’s office in September, two state senators who spearheaded a recent passage of tough gun-control legislation in Colorado were recalled — another triumph for the N.R.A., despite having been outspent by Bloomberg’s group. (A third Colorado state senator who supported the bill announced her retirement last month in the face of a recall.) Not long after that, a mentally unhinged gunman at the Washington Navy Yard, less than two miles from the Senate office buildings, killed 12 employees. In his eulogy for the victims, the president noted somberly: “Once more our hearts are broken. Once more we ask why.” But few were asking why Joe Manchin or some other senator wasn’t out trying to round up more votes for his bill. If the murder of 20 schoolchildren had proved insufficient motivation to address gun violence in America, this killing was not enough to persuade anyone to take on the N.R.A. again.

“As far as putting on a full-court press, I don’t see that happening,” Manchin told me in his office. “And I don’t hear much conversation about it.” The defeat of the bill has added to the legend of the gun lobby’s brawn. Though the N.R.A.’s opponents still question whether the group is really as indomitable as it is perceived, at a certain point, political mythology engineers its own reality. One recently retired congressman from a conservative district told me, “That was the one group where I said, ‘As long as I’m in office, I’m not bucking the N.R.A.’ ”

Still, a year after the Newtown killings, the question of why nothing new has been done to address America’s gun violence is a vexing one. To begin to answer it requires a close look at why Joe Manchin failed in his effort to pass a fairly minimal change — closing loopholes in the existing gun laws. The defeat of the bill not only provides a case study in how the N.R.A. operates but also reveals its potential frailties. Whether the N.R.A.’s new and well-financed adversaries can exploit them is another matter. Doing so will most likely involve more than just standing up for the vulnerable young faces on Manchin’s wall. It will also require taking stock of, and appreciating, the resonance of the armed figure in his lobby.

President Obama was at his desk on the afternoon of the Newtown shootings, when two speechwriters, Jon Favreau and Cody Keenan, entered the Oval Office to receive his edits of the statement they wrote about the horrendous episode. “I can’t read that,” Obama said quietly, crossing out a couple of lines. “I won’t be able to get through them.”

That evening, Obama convened a group of top aides in the Oval Office and informed them that passing gun legislation would now take priority in his already-cluttered second-term agenda. Five days later, at a news conference, Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would be leading a monthlong search for “proposals that I then intend to push without delay.” When a reporter asked, “What about the N.R.A.?” the president replied: “Well, the N.R.A. is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers. And I would expect that they’ve been impacted by this as well. And hopefully they’ll do some self-reflection.”

Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. took a hard line after the Newtown shootings.
Rex Features, via Associated Press
Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. took a hard line after the Newtown shootings.
The N.R.A. was doing precisely that. In the week that followed the shooting, the organization’s two top officials — its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, and Chris Cox, the executive director of the N.R.A.’s Institute for Legislative Action — spoke by phone numerous times. LaPierre, who is 64, was paid a salary of $831,709 in 2011, according to federal tax returns. He spends the majority of his time on the road, raising money and interacting with N.R.A. members, who routinely address him by his first name. Despite his accessibility with gun owners and the homespun manner in which N.R.A. phone solicitors tell members that “Wayne” would like to offer them discounts on N.R.A. products, LaPierre is notably guarded with the media. After Newtown, he traveled with security guards who, because of death threats, cased TV studios in advance of his rare interviews. (The N.R.A. refused my repeated requests to speak with him.) By contrast, Cox, who is 43, is the group’s inside man whose office is a short walk from the Capitol in a small space above Bullfeathers, a popular watering hole for Hill staff members.

In their conversations, Cox told LaPierre that he did not yet have a clear sense of how their congressional allies were reacting to the Newtown shootings. Cox’s instinct was that the N.R.A. should stay quiet for the time being, as it had done following past shootings. Instead LaPierre decided to respond forcefully, without consulting the N.R.A.’s lobbyists or its full 76-member executive board. One week after the shootings, he stood behind a lectern at the Willard InterContinental hotel a few blocks from the White House and broke into a blistering attack on the news media, the movie industry and video-game manufacturers while defiantly declaring, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Several N.R.A.-friendly legislators found LaPierre’s speech to be tone deaf and recommended to his colleagues that someone else serve as the group’s spokesman.

LaPierre’s combativeness was nonetheless in keeping with the N.R.A.’s recent history as an organization that views its cause as an embattled one. It hasn’t always been that way. Founded in 1871 to teach marksmanship to city-dwelling Union soldiers, the group was originally a nonpolitical and noncontroversial league of sportsmen and remained so for nearly a century. Everything changed, however, during the urban tumult of the 1960s, culminating in the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The 1968 Gun Control Act imposed a licensing system for purchases, mandated serial numbers on weapons, banned certain gun imports and barred felons and illicit drug users from obtaining firearms. Gun-loving legislators like Representative John Dingell of Michigan worried that even harsher restrictions were imminent and clamored for the N.R.A. to wake up and enter the political arena. The lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, was formed in 1975. Two years later at a now-famous annual convention in Cincinnati, Dingell and other N.R.A. allies ousted the group’s reigning executives, who saw the organization largely as a haven for gentlemen hunters, and replaced them with fire-breathing Second Amendment absolutists. The new lobbying director, Harlon Carter, then led an energetic campaign to boost membership. “Harlon came up with the idea that they’d need four million members, and everybody thought this was impossible, but by golly, he did it,” Dingell told me. (Today the N.R.A. claims that it has more than five million dues-paying members, though there is reason to believe that this figure is at least somewhat inflated. Millions more do not pay dues but — perhaps because they’ve taken the group’s firearm-safety course — say in surveys that they are members.)

The N.R.A. scored its first major victory when Dingell and other friends on the Hill succeeded in passing the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, which restored many of the gun rights that were outlawed by the 1968 law. Once the Democrats regained the White House in 1993, the N.R.A. was again put on the defensive, when President Bill Clinton and Congress passed a ban on assault weapons. The gun group then targeted the bill’s proponents during the midterm elections. Many of them lost and Republicans became the majority. “The N.R.A. is the reason Republicans control the House,” Clinton ruefully observed, thereby cementing the group’s reputation as a political force to be feared.

Following the Columbine shootings in 1999, in which some of the weapons used were bought at gun shows, Clinton pushed for universal background checks. Initially, the N.R.A. went on record supporting an amendment by Dingell that watered down a bill extending background checks to gun shows. But ultimately the scandal-ridden and lame-duck president was no match for the N.R.A., whose congressional allies killed the bill entirely. By the time the Virginia Tech murders occurred in 2007, it was a fact of life in Washington: Any major legislation that the N.R.A. opposed stood little to no chance of passage.

But the uniquely awful nature of the Newtown tragedy, coupled with Obama’s recent victory, augured a battle far more difficult than any the N.R.A. recently faced. Aware that the struggle would be fierce and expensive, the group made it “as easy as we could for people to join,” says David Keene, who recently retired as N.R.A. president. It offered discounts on annual and lifetime memberships. In the six months after Newtown, as gun-control advocates pushed for legislation, the N.R.A. was able to recruit more than a million new members, Andrew Arulanandam, an N.R.A. spokesman, said. This meant millions more for the group’s coffers.

Still, the gun lobby had no clear sense initially of how its efforts would be waged, and to what end. On Jan. 10, 2013, Biden hosted a meeting in his Executive Office Building suite with several Second Amendment supporters, including the veteran N.R.A. lobbyist Jim Baker. When Biden asked if the N.R.A. would consider supporting a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazine clips, Baker’s answer was a crisp “no.” But when asked the same thing about universal background checks, Baker equivocated, saying, “I’d have to see what you’re talking about.”

Baker knew this was thorny territory for the N.R.A. Extending background checks to firearms purchases at gun shows and over the Internet, with the aim of making it harder for felons and the mentally ill to acquire weapons, remains popular and not just among liberals. According to a CBS News/New York Times poll taken in the days after the Biden meeting, 92 percent of Americans favored universal background checks. A poll conducted by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz indicated that there was 74 percent approval among self-identified N.R.A. members — in keeping with the 77 percent approval in a survey of hunters commissioned by the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance. (The N.R.A. dismisses these high numbers but has offered none of its own. Three days after the Biden meeting, the Republican polling firm OnMessage conducted a survey for the N.R.A. of its members on a variety of legislative topics — but was not instructed to ask about universal background checks.) After Newtown, the N.R.A. lobbyists suspected that if the Democrats were to reintroduce Dingell’s 1999 background-checks bill, there would be no political will to oppose it.

In January, Biden’s task force announced its legislative recommendations. These included universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and limits on magazine capacity. Each initiative would successfully pass through the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman was Patrick Leahy — himself an owner of more than a dozen firearms who has spent time during Vermont winters shooting at large chunks of ice. Though it was clear from the outset that there would never be enough votes in the Senate to pass either an assault-weapons ban or a limit on magazine capacity, progressives were convinced that their moment had arrived on universal background checks. During one meeting between several Democratic senators and some of the Newtown parents in early February, Al Franken of Minnesota openly conveyed the optimism many on his side of the issue were feeling. “There’s not an argument — there aren’t two sides to this,” he said, according to someone who was present. “This is common sense. And that’s the end of it.”

Not every Democrat felt so sanguine. Any bill that made it out of the Senate would face stiff opposition from the Republican-controlled House. Other pressing issues (like immigration) loomed on the legislative calendar, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, had no desire to see the agenda overtaken by gun control. Like Leahy, Reid was a gun owner who was keenly aware of the place firearms hold in American life — and who recognized that not everyone in his party understood this. At roughly the same time that Franken and other Democratic senators were plotting their legislative strategy, their Democratic counterparts in the House met for an annual retreat in Leesburg, Va. Among the gathering’s main events was a seminar on how to talk to voters about firearms and gun legislation. But not one of the four panelists — a Yale law professor, a political reporter, a former Orlando police chief who ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket and the veteran Beltway strategist Anita Dunn — could claim a true appreciation of American gun culture. According to two attendees, when Dunn was describing the desirability of background checks, she used the word “registration” — thereby conjuring up the specter of a national registry of all licensed guns, a notion that is abhorrent to many gun owners, who fear that registering firearms with a federal agency would make it easier for the government to one day confiscate them. “She kept using the R-word,” one attendee recalls. “And what I took away was that nobody in the Democratic Party knows how to talk about this.”

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

In early March, Chris Cox and Jim Baker came to Manchin’s office to hear him out — the first of several face-to-face meetings they would have that month. Manchin knew that the lobbyists were never going to embrace universal background checks. His hope was simply that they would not fight him. To win their neutrality, Manchin had all sorts of ideas for an N.R.A.-friendly bill. In his version, firearms dealers would, for the first time since 1968, be allowed to sell handguns across state lines, including at out-of-state gun shows. Members of the military and their spouses could purchase guns in their native state and in the state where they were stationed. Such provisions had been championed by the gun group for years. “I told the N.R.A., ‘When will you ever have a time when liberals who hate us even having a gun actually vote for something that protects and enhances our rights — and all we ask for in return is to tighten up loopholes in legislation that’s already there?’ ” he said. “Absolutely, I said that to them. Many, many times.”

Among the N.R.A.’s most-activist members, however, there is a powerful suspicion that one restriction will open the door to more, each new limit leading inexorably to a time when there will no longer be a right to bear arms. Throughout March, the N.R.A. employed the familiar mechanics of lobbying the dozen or so senators — including Democrats facing tough re-election battles in 2014 like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and blue-state Republicans like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — who had not yet decided whether they would support the bill. They pressed for face time with the senators, cozied up to their aides and urged N.R.A. members in their states to harangue the Washington offices. Cox and Baker were aware that the senators were also feeling pressure from the White House and gun-safety groups — and, of course, from Joe Manchin, a fellow N.R.A. member and sportsman who actively sought to allay the fears of red-state legislators that his bill would be impossible to sell back home. Recognizing, for example, that a chief talking point of the gun lobby was that universal background checks might enable a government agency to compile a national registry, he added a section that would make the attempt to do so punishable by a 15-year prison sentence. By early April, Manchin found a willing Republican co-sponsor: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the former president of the fiscally hawkish Club for Growth who, like Manchin, had received an A rating from the N.R.A. (Toomey hailed from a blue state and, says someone closely involved in the legislative strategy, “he needed something to show to more moderate voters in Pennsylvania that he’s not an ideologue.”)

For the time being, then, Cox and Baker’s only recourse was to make Manchin’s bill as attractive to gun owners as possible, in the event that it became law. Through email and phone calls, N.R.A. lobbyists inundated Manchin’s office with suggested bill changes. Among these were small but meaningful technicalities like refining the legal definition of “gun show” and exempting certain firearm purchases from background checks. When the Manchin-Toomey bill was officially made public on April 10, the language included numerous provisions that were explicitly, according to someone involved in the negotiations, “N.R.A. ask-fors.”

The N.R.A. prefers quashing a bill it doesn’t like or pushing a favored bill through Congress with traditional arm twisting. But if it can’t do that, the organization strives to be in the room while legislation is being hashed out; and once there, it will cut deals with any ally it can find, including Democrats. This is the way of all lobbying organizations, of course. As David Keene, the former N.R.A. president, put it: “Our effectiveness is totally dependent on the fact that we reward our friends, and we stand with them. Our goal isn’t to elect Republicans. It’s to support people who support the Second Amendment.” The N.R.A. declared war on those who helped pass the 1994 assault-weapons ban, most of whom were Democrats, but while the bill was being crafted, the N.R.A. worked with two of its House Democratic allies, John Dingell and Jack Brooks of Texas, to weaken it so that if it did pass, it would apply to only a limited number of firearms and would expire a decade later. (It did not pass again.) Following the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the N.R.A. skillfully aligned itself with both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Carolyn McCarthy, a New York congresswoman and ardent gun-control advocate, to pass legislation that would improve the flow of state mental-health and criminal records to the F.B.I. database.

Manchin, left, met with Nelba Marquez-Greene and Mark Barden, who each lost a child in the Newtown shootings, in Washington.
Michael Reynolds/EPA
Manchin, left, met with Nelba Marquez-Greene and Mark Barden, who each lost a child in the Newtown shootings, in Washington.
But a handful of smaller, more strident gun groups — most notably the Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights — have continually attacked the N.R.A. for giving any ground, for negotiating with the enemy and, worst of all, for helping to elect lukewarm allies. By way of defending the organization’s strategy, Keene says: “The difference between the N.R.A. and a lot of these other gun organizations is that it’s easy enough to stand and say, ‘You shouldn’t compromise on anything.’ Our job is to actually get things done.”

Still, getting things done requires compromise, which is frowned upon by the group’s hard-core base. This dilemma has plagued the N.R.A. since it achieved passage of the 1986 Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, an N.R.A. triumph that came at a cost: to garner enough votes among Democrats, Wayne LaPierre, who then led the N.R.A.’s federal lobbying effort, agreed to a provision in the bill that banned the future sale of machine guns. Richard Feldman, an N.R.A. lobbyist back then and now its critic, said: “At the time, there was a huge controversy among the activist groups about the N.R.A. being a sellout. ‘They gave away your rights on machine guns!’ This was long before an Internet. Now it would be all over the place, and people would question what the N.R.A. did.”

That kind of instant, frenetic backlash is precisely what occurred during the spring of 2013, when word began to leak out that the N.R.A.’s top lobbyists were once again in the back room discussing gun legislation. On March 25, Dudley Brown, executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights, sent a mass email to thousands of gun enthusiasts that began: “It’s happening. . . . According to Politico, Sen. Joe Manchin is in secret negotiations with unnamed N.R.A. officials to sell out our gun rights. I’ve warned you from the beginning that our gravest danger was an inside-Washington driven deal.” In the email, Brown damningly referred to the deal as “the Manchin-N.R.A. compromise bill.”

A week later, on April 1, about 250,000 gun-rights sympathizers received an email from the Gun Owners of America, which promotes itself as “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.” The email warned, “The media has been reporting that the N.R.A. is working” with Manchin. It concluded, “If you are an N.R.A. member, contact them,” and helpfully supplied the N.R.A. phone number, directing recipients to address their grievances to Wayne LaPierre.

The Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights each has less than a tenth of the N.R.A.’s reported five million members and each has only one full-time lobbyist (the N.R.A. has more than a half-dozen federal lobbyists alone). Yet, as two people connected to the N.R.A. acknowledged to me, extreme gun groups can influence the N.R.A. simply by casting it as the establishment organization, much as Tea Party candidates have pushed mainstream Republican incumbents farther to the right. That would seem to be what occurred in the case of the Manchin-Toomey bill. For it was immediately following pressure from the hard-liners that the N.R.A. lobbyists suddenly and without notice backed away from the background-checks bill.

A few days after the Gun Owners of America’s mass email, Cox and Baker stopped communicating with Manchin’s office. (The N.R.A. denies that its withdrawal from the process was a result of pressure from other gun groups.) On the afternoon of Monday, April 15, Manchin was surprised to learn about an email that the N.R.A. had sent to his Senate colleagues. The email (a similar version of which went out to N.R.A. members) ended any pretense of neutrality by announcing that the organization would vehemently oppose the Manchin-Toomey bill. In addition, the organization said it would “score” the vote — meaning, it would factor into its election-year grading system how each senator voted on the bill. (In some conservative states, an N.R.A. grade can be determinative; as one former legislator told me, “When you come from a state like mine, you’d better be with them 100 percent.”)

Aghast, Manchin got Jim Baker on the phone. “Jim, why’d you change?” he recalls asking.

Rather than answer the question, Baker simply replied: “We’re totally opposed to it. We’re going to be fighting it with all we have.”

The phones soon began to ring throughout Senate office buildings, jamming up the lines in front offices and rolling over into those on many staff members’ desks. In Pat Toomey’s office, the calls ran nine to one against the bill. In Manchin’s office, the ratio was 200 to one in opposition, with many citing the fear that the bill would lead to a national registry despite the provision that explicitly made it a felony to do so. The N.R.A. enlisted the aid of a paid phone-calling organization to mobilize its members by forwarding willing participants directly to their senators’ phones. Regardless of what prompted the calls, what Senate staff members heard was the distinct and fevered outcry of a single-issue constituency with every intention of echoing its wrath at the ballot box. This was the N.R.A.’s base in action.

Manchin stepped up his personal lobbying. He and his other allies, like Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, quickly recognized that the gun bill wasn’t being viewed in isolation. Sometimes that worked in their favor. While visiting their Arizona friend John McCain, Giffords and Kelly were two minutes into their pitch on the background-checks bill when McCain interrupted them: “Oh, yeah, yeah, of course. I’m with you. Now, immigration? I’m going to need your help.”

But for several other undecided senators, the gun bill constituted one political burden too many. This was evident during a meeting between Rob Portman, who is a Republican senator from Ohio, and several parents of the slain Newtown children. Portman told them, “You know, I have an A rating from the N.R.A., so I’m probably not going to support this.” At some point, 13-year-old James Barden, a brother of one of the victims, spoke up. “Senator, there’s over a thousand deaths from gun violence in Ohio every year,” he said. “I’m here on behalf of my little brother, Daniel. Do you think that this bill would save some of those lives?”

Portman sat quietly for a moment. Then he said: “It could. It could.” But what the Republican senator did not say was that he had already disappointed conservatives by coming out in favor of same-sex marriage because of his openly gay son. By the spring of 2013 it had become axiomatic in the Senate that among the three incendiary social issues of the moment — gun restrictions, same-sex marriage and comprehensive immigration reform — a moderate Democrat could afford to vote for two of them, and a conservative Republican only one. Portman had already selected his hot-button issue.

Harry Reid scheduled the vote on the Manchin-Toomey bill for Wednesday, April 17. The previous weekend, Manchin, Toomey and Schumer divvied up the list of undecideds whom they needed to call. Democrats had been hopeful that Toomey could bring as many as 10 Republicans on board. Thus far, none would commit. Manchin was having problems of his own with the undecided Democrats. Max Baucus crossed the N.R.A. back in 1994 by voting for the assault-weapons ban and, a former Baucus staff member told me, he “felt he had paid dearly for that” in the form of attack ads and wrathful constituents. Baucus was viewed as a near-certain no. Mark Pryor of Arkansas faces a tough re-election in 2014; he was also aware that his father, Senator David Pryor, like Baucus, voted for the 1994 assault-weapons ban and incurred the animus of the N.R.A. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota had just begun her first term after defeating a Republican who received the N.R.A.’s endorsement. The flood of calls from Heitkamp’s new constituents registered roughly seven to one against the background-checks bill.

By late Sunday, Manchin, Toomey and Schumer glumly compared notes. The weekend calls failed to produce a single new vote in favor of the bill. Then, on the afternoon of Monday, April 15, explosive devices went off at the Boston Marathon. That evening, while mayhem dominated the news coverage, one of the key swing senators in the gun debate, Jeff Flake of Arizona, posted on his Facebook page that he intended to vote no.

The following afternoon, Flake was in a Capitol Visitor Center restroom before heading to a conference room that was about to be dedicated to Gabe Zimmerman, the former staff member of Gabby Giffords who was killed by the Tucson gunman. Inside, the senator encountered a fellow Arizonan who was also heading to the dedication: Giffords’s husband Mark Kelly.

Kelly pulled a copy of the Manchin-Toomey bill out of his pocket. He wanted to know specifically what Flake’s objections were. The two began to debate the wording of individual sentences. As Kelly would later tell me, he thought that Flake’s tortured reasoning — combined with the fact that the N.R.A. spent more than $345,000 on his Senate race last year — seemed like evidence “that he was trying to get to ‘no.’ ”

Flake stepped out of the men’s room. Shortly afterward, Gabby Giffords met them by the door. The former congresswoman — whose speaking skills remain badly impaired since being shot in the head — fixed Flake with a glare of anger and disappointment.

But Flake’s decision to vote no began the cascade. On Wednesday, Joe Manchin stood on the floor of the Senate as the votes stacked up against his bill. In the end, the final tally was 54 to 46 in favor of the bill. But that was not enough to reach the 60-vote threshold the bill required and the legislation was defeated. Afterward, several senators came up to shake Manchin’s hand and express kind words for his political courage and determination. Half-listening, Manchin scanned the gallery, where he knew some of the Newtown parents were sitting. In a few minutes he broke away and gathered the families in an anteroom. He managed to stare into their eyes and assure them that he was far from done. Their children’s faces were on his wall, and he would not forget them.

“Harry Reid told me that as soon as I’ve got 60 votes, he’ll bring it to the floor for a vote,” Manchin said in his office recently. But his tone suggested that this was not something anyone should expect anytime soon. As to what legislative compromises would be needed to swing the necessary votes his way while not alienating the ones he already had — and then, to find Republican supporters in the House — Manchin could only say he was open to whatever ideas his colleagues might have.

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

The N.R.A. is all too aware of the headwinds it faces and has ramped up its efforts. In recent years, it has targeted young military veterans by offering them a free introductory “Life of Duty” membership. It also works extensively with the Boy Scouts, David Keene told me, “to try to get kids in the city to hunt and fish.” The N.R.A.’s signature method of recruitment, however, is to play on the fears of gun enthusiasts with over-the-top claims that President Obama and his administration will not rest “until they’ve banned, confiscated and destroyed our guns, just like they did in England and Australia.” Over time, this tactic could prove to be a losing one. Just as Tea Party rhetoric has hurt the Republican Party among young people and Hispanics, the N.R.A.’s seeming capitulation to the smaller, no-compromise gun groups risks turning off whole swaths of mainstream gun owners who may be more concerned with the job market and the cost of college tuition than with the prospect of a national gun registry.

For now, the matter of universal background checks joins immigration reform and same-sex marriage as issues in which Washington Republicans lag behind nationwide public opinion. And so the more competitive gun-legislation battles have begun to take place at the state level. Following the shootings in Newtown, tighter gun restrictions have passed in 20 states, including Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Illinois and Colorado, while a ballot-initiative effort is under way in Washington State to pass a background-checks bill that was defeated in the Legislature earlier this year. Meanwhile, 27 states have loosened, in some manner, gun laws that were already on the books. Some states did both.

“The N.R.A. has had this issue to itself for a generation,” Mark Glaze, the executive director of the Bloomberg-backed Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said, referring to the N.R.A.’s dominance of an overmatched gun-control lobby. On the subject of the Manchin-Toomey defeat, he said: “Would we have done anything differently? We might have started advertising sooner and more broadly. We might have paid millions rather than thousands of dollars to ship telephone calls into offices. But it’s entirely possible that none of that would’ve made a difference, because you’re at the early stage of a process that has several stages.”

Shannon Watts, who started Moms Demand Action, at a rally in Washington in January.
Jeff Malet/Newscom
Shannon Watts, who started Moms Demand Action, at a rally in Washington in January.
If part of this early stage is figuring out how to exploit the N.R.A.’s vulnerabilities, Glaze and others must also face up to why it is that the N.R.A. has continued to beat them soundly and far more consistently than the Republicans have defeated Democrats — namely, by motivating its supporters to make themselves heard in a way that gun-control adherents haven’t. One gun-control group that seeks to close the intensity gap is Moms Demand Action, which was started by Shannon Watts, a 42-year-old Indiana-based public-relations veteran and mother of five, the day after the Newtown shootings. “I think what’s been missing are the voices of mothers,” Watts told me. Most gun-control organizations “have been run by men,” she said. “Women are the caretakers of the family, and the ones who make most of the spending decisions. Most of us don’t realize — I certainly didn’t — that it’s easier to buy ammunition than Sudafed. But the massacre of innocent children in the sanctity of their schools woke us up.”

Though underfinanced, Watts’s group (which, she says, consists of 125,000 volunteers nationwide) has staged attention-getting Stroller Jams — rallies of women with strollers at state capitols and congressional offices — and pressured Starbucks to request that customers not bring firearms into its stores. More often than not, Watts told me, men with semiautomatic weapons slung over their shoulders show up to her group’s events, and she routinely receives vile phone messages and threats against her and her children.

While Moms Demand Action employs confrontational tactics, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly have opted for a more soothing approach. Following the defeat of the background-checks bill, Giffords and Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, have spent much of their time touring rural regions and meeting with gun owners. “We’re trying to make it a habit to engage with folks who don’t think we’re on the same side of the issue,” Kelly told me the day after he and Giffords visited a gun show in upstate New York. “More than anything, they just want to be listened to — and to hear that we know something about where they’re coming from. Hell, I’m as much of a supporter of the Second Amendment as Wayne LaPierre. I’d far rather spend my day at a gun show than at an antique show.”

But the point behind this blue-collar diplomacy, Kelly told me, is to build consensus on addressing a painful conundrum: “It’s been almost a year since 20 schoolchildren were massacred, and so far our national response has been to do nothing.”

“Washington, D.C., is a difficult place to get things done,” Nicole Hockley said with arch understatement when I visited her in Newtown one morning recently. The first time I met her, two weeks after the defeat of the background-checks bill and less than five months after the death of her son Dylan, Hockley seemed freighted with a bottomless fatigue. Though grief was hardly behind her, she now appeared more buoyant and intent on rising above the legislative mire. Recently, Hockley said, she spent several days attending focus groups of gun owners in Memphis, Phoenix and Chicago. Sitting in a dark room and peering through one-way glass, she listened as people who looked and sounded very much like her spoke of their love for their children and their affection for their firearms. It struck her, she told me, that “only one out of more than 60 didn’t support background checks.”

Hockley also recently met with a firearms instructor to learn more about the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill her son. She said she has a “perverse need” to come to terms with the weapon used to shoot Dylan, as part of a larger attempt to understand gun culture. Her effort represents a way of doing individually what those in the gun-control movement might need to do collectively — break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.

As the instructor spoke, she stared at the weapon and listened intently. He asked her whether she would like to shoot it or at least hold it. Hockley shook her head. “This is as far as I can go today,” she told the instructor with tears in her eyes. And that was the way these things would have to progress, in unsteady little increments.

Robert Draper is a contributing writer for the magazine and the author of “When the Tea Party Came to Town.”

Editor: Ilena Silverman