Gun rights groups fought back primarily through news conferences, quiet meetings and swarms of lobbyists. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the most powerful gun rights group, the National Rifle Association, said its strength comes from its 5 million members and tens of millions of supporters, who pushed senators with letters, emails, phone calls and appearances at town hall meetings.
“What our members did and did well was let members of Congress know where they stand,” he said.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest alluded to the NRA’s efforts – without naming the group – saying Thursday that “attempts to mislead the American public about the contents of the legislation are unconscionable.”
Since the Newtown shooting in December, 45 lobbyists representing 10 groups have registered to lobby on the issue, according to records filed with the Senate.
They include big players, such as the NRA, and prominent gun control organizations like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a large national coalition founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Remington Outdoor Co., which bills itself as America’s oldest gun maker; the National Organization of Police; and TheTeaParty.net, a non-profit group that supports conservative political values, each hired a professional lobbyist. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a national chain that sells guns, and a group representing the Newtown families, Sandy Hook Promise, each hired nine.
Brian Malte, the Brady Campaign’s director of mobilization, said the group hired its first outside lobbyist in years when it appeared that Newtown might spur action. It hired seven lobbyists to supplement its two on staff.
“This time people are getting up off their couches and doing more,” Malte said.
In past years, gun rights groups have spent millions more dollars than gun control groups on lobbying. For example, gun rights groups spent $6 million on 44 lobbyists in 2012, while gun control organizations spent $240,000 on eight lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Similar records are not yet available for this year.
Since January, Giffords’ group, Americans for Responsible Solution, raised millions of dollars and attracted 300,000 members, said executive director Pia Carusone, a former top aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Carusone appeared with Kelly at the press club.
Robert Spitzer, a political scientist at State University of New York-Cortland, who has written extensively on gun control, said the debate has been more intense this time around, in part because of the influential lobbying role of Newtown families and crime victims, such as Giffords.
Still, that did not deliver a victory.
“These people have been extremely persistent,” he said. “Persistence counts for a lot, especially in politics.”
A glance at this week’s schedule underscores how hard-fought the battle became:
On Monday, the mother of a gun violence survivor delivered more than 1.3 million petition signatures in favor of legislation to Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, families of victims from that shooting, Tucson and Newtown held a vigil while Giffords attended the dedication of a room at the Capitol named for a Tucson victim.
On Wednesday, a series of so-called stroller jams – a designated time when mothers went office to office on Capitol Hill with children in strollers on Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers – took place in Washington and at Senate offices across the nation in key states.
On Thursday, a flurry of lobbyists and volunteers packed Capitol Hill in the hours during and after the final votes.
“If it doesn’t happen this year,” said Erin Gormley, head of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action,
“we’ll be back next year.”