Advocates: Newtown killings giving new momentum to gun control

A march to the National Rifle Association headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press Photos)

WASHINGTON – Gun control advocates who have long struggled to match the political clout of groups such as the National Rifle Assn. say the anguish and outrage spurred by Friday’s deadly massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school is powering a groundswell of support for their cause.

“As somebody who has worked on this for 17 years, there is something very different about this,” said Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We are getting an unprecedented amount of donations, of people wanting to volunteer.” He declined to say how much money had come in.

Another big shift: Malte said the organization is fielding calls from members of Congress asking to meet with the group.


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Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, is also having conversations with advisors to President Obama after reaching out to the White House, Malte said.

Obama raised the hopes of gun control advocates at a vigil Sunday night when he decried the deaths of the 20 young children killed in Newtown and others murdered across the nation every day, saying, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.”

It remains unclear what action the president will take. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that he did not yet have any proposals to unveil.

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Despite a number of mass shootings in recent years, advocates of gun restrictions have gotten little traction with their efforts to toughen gun laws. They have been greatly outmatched by organizations such as the NRA, which has more than 4 million members and an annual budget that has exceeded $200 million in recent years. Much of the group’s influence stems from its relentless lobbying, as The Times reported in July.


As of the middle of this year, the NRA had spent $4.4 million lobbying the 112th Congress, while the Brady Campaign spent a mere $60,000, according to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.

Obama’s promise to put the weight of his office behind an effort to stem gun violence has buoyed long-beleaguered gun control supporters.

“He said in so many words that we’re better than this, and that’s what we’re saying. We’re very encouraged by the president’s leadership,” Malte said. “We’re very optimistic it is time for action.”

Still, the Brady Campaign plans to keep the pressure up. On Tuesday, the group is set to hold a news conference in Washington to release a letter from victims of mass shootings and their family members. “We need a comprehensive approach that will significantly reduce gun deaths,” Malte said.

It remains to be seen how the NRA will counter the push for new gun restrictions. The group has yet to release a statement about the killings in Newtown and pulled down its Facebook page. A spokesman did not return requests for comment.

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