Capitol Hill will play host to a springtime clash over gun rights, as lawmakers prepare to take up significant gun control legislation for the first time in years.
The Senate will take up a new bill next month intended to require background checks for every firearm purchase in the country — and proponents of the legislation are girding for a major political showdown against supporters of gun rights and its principal advocacy group, the National Rifle Association.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has emerged as one of the most forceful national backers of stricter gun laws, and this weekend launched a $12 million television ad campaign meant to pressure wavering senators to support the new legislation when they return from their holiday break.
"We're trying to do everything we can to impress upon the Senators that this is what the survivors want, this is what the public wants," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. He added later: "If 90 percent of the public want something, and their representatives vote against that, common sense says, they are going to have a price to pay for that."
But his push has been met with strict resistance by the NRA, which has dug in against stricter controls on guns since last December's massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the catalyzing event for President Barack Obama's renewed push for new gun laws.
"He can't spend enough of of his $27 billion to impose his will on the American people," said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's CEO and executive vice president, of Bloomberg's new advertising effort. "He can't buy America."
Already, advocates of stricter gun laws have suffered setbacks due to the NRA's resistance. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this week that he would move forward with legislation following the holiday recess, but said it would exclude a reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons, which appears to lack sufficient support to move forward in the Senate. But Democrats will seek a vote on the ban in the form of an amendment, laying down a political marker — which Bloomberg said he would be watching closely.
"I don't think we should give up on the assault weapons ban," he said. "But clearly, it is a more difficult issue for a lot of people … It may be just that people have different views about assault weapons than they do about background checks."
But even the proposed expansion of background checks is far from assured passage in Congress. Failing to advance this more modest gun control would be a blow to efforts to advance gun controls, even with a high-profile event like the Newtown massacre providing an impetus for action.
LaPierre derided the proposal on background checks as little more than "a speed bump for the law-abiding." Though the NRA had supported the background check system in the past, LaPierre said it was "not fair," "not accurate" and "not instant" in practice.