While gun-rights groups lay low, gun-control advocate is inspired

Leaders of the National Rifle Assn., other major pro-gun groups and pro-gun-rights lawmakers continued to keep a low profile after 26 children and adults were shot to death in a Connecticut elementary school, while the leader of one of the biggest gun-control organizations called the outpouring of support for the issue “inspiring.”

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, said he saw new hope for pushing gun-control measures and that he did not think politics would get in the way.

“I don’t see the gun violence prevention conversation retreating,” Gross said in a phone interview. “And once the fiscal cliff issues are addressed, I see a major national conversation about gun violence. When you think where this was a year ago versus where it is now, that’s inspiring.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke Sunday about renewing the lapsed assault weapons ban. Other lawmakers have said they will try to ban large clips and magazines that allow dozens of rounds to be fired without reloading. Gross called those reforms important but said more needs to be done -- particularly in expanding and improving background checks of those who buy guns.

An estimated 40% of all gun sales in America occur without criminal background checks on the buyer, Gross said. Many of the unscreened buyers get their weapons at gun shows, via the Internet or in person-to-person transactions.

In a survey published last July, the Republican pollster Frank Luntz found broad support for more thorough background checks, even among gun owners. Seventy-four percent of the current and former members of the NRA and 87% of other gun owners supported criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun, according to the poll, which Luntz completed for the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“The American public wants to have an honest conversation about what we can do to prevent these tragedies,” said Gross of the Brady group. “The ones who don’t want to have a conversation is the gun lobby. And the only place this is a polarizing issue is in Congress.”

The NRA has not made a statement since the shootings in Newtown. It pulled down its Facebook page and ceased feeding items to Twitter. The gun rights group traditionally has tried to keep out of the news in the immediate aftermath of major shootings.

The Sunday political talk shows also had a hard time finding representatives ready to speak up for gun rights. David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet the Press” said the program “reached out to all 31 pro-gun-rights senators in the new Congress” but had “no takers” to discuss the issue.

On CBS, “Face the Nation” also reportedly attempted to book gun-rights advocates, including representatives from the NRA, but none of them would come on the program.