No Quit in 'Accidental Activists' for Gun Background Checks

PHOTO: A convention goers picks up a weapon equipped with a silencer during the 142nd annual National Rifle Association (NRA)Convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center May 4, 2013 in Houston, Texas.Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
A convention goer picks up a weapon equipped with a silencer during the 142nd annual National Rifle Association Convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center May 4, 2013, in Houston.

In a Newtown, Conn. high school Tuesday night, family members, friends, and neighbors who've become "accidental activists" for gun control gathered to contemplate the future of their movement three weeks after background-check legislation failed in the Senate.

Their verdict: Keep up the pressure because it's working.

"Today, the majority leader and the leadership of the Senate pledged again that they will bring back the bill for a vote," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who received a standing ovation from the group. "The political landscape is changing as we speak. There have been changes in the views of my colleagues. They are reconsidering and rethinking and revisiting.

"So there is no reason to retreat," he added.

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Though smarting from defeat by a five-vote margin, gun control advocates, fueled by the recent grief of Newtown survivors, are eager for round two.

"Actually, I think that vote was a blessing in disguise," Dave Ackert, founder of Newtown Action Alliance, told ABC News. "It was a watered-down bill to begin with and the shameful way it was voted down actually fired people up.

"We had our best fundraising days in the days after that vote," he added.

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Ackert's group partnered with dozens of other gun-control advocates to launch the "Shame on Congress" coalition in the days after the failed Senate vote. The group plans to nominate Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to their hall of fame and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who voted against the bill, to the "hall of shame."

The Granite State senator has in recent weeks been on the receiving end of some well-funded shamming levied by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an advocacy group backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The group's ads have targeted Ayotte for her 'no' vote on the background-check bill, which was drafted by the bi-partisan pair of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.. and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

There are some signs that Ayotte is feeling the heat.

In an op-ed posted Monday night in the Concord Monitor, Ayotte defended her vote against "false" attack ads by "out of state special interests."

"Some of my colleagues want to expand the broken background check system we have now," Ayotte said. "In my view, we shouldn't be expanding a flawed system. The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting."

The most recent anti-Ayotte ad which, was released this week, is the second such spot to hit the airwaves of New Hampshire and neighboring Boston. It condemned Ayotte for voting "no to police, no to fighting crime, no to background checks to criminals."

Though a spokesman for Ayotte told ABC News that the op-ed was part of the senator's "routine" communication with constituents about issues that are in the news, the timing suggests that Ayotte was making an effort to get ahead of the ad's implication that her background-check vote was soft on crime.

"As a former prosecutor who served for five years as New Hampshire's attorney general, I have a demonstrated record of punishing criminals and strengthening public safety," Ayotte wrote in the op-ed. "Having worked as a murder prosecutor, I've witnessed horrific crime scenes. I've spent time with victims -- and I've worked day and night to put violent offenders behind bars."

Ayotte says that her support for a Republican-backed, background-check amendment that aims to strengthen mental health reporting and enforcement of the existing background-check system was a vote for better background checks.

"In her op-ed, Senator Ayotte says that she voted to improve the existing background check system, but the bill she voted for [Grassley-Cruz] did just the opposite by narrowing the categories of mentally ill people who would be prohibited gun purchasers and potentially calling into question millions of names already in the system," said John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and chief policy adviser to Bloomberg.

"Despite the senator's claim that the current background-check system doesn't work, it has blocked over two million dangerous people from buying guns."

There is little indication, at least publicly, that any senators have decided to change their votes.

But at least one Republican who voted against the bill, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has said that he supports background checks and might back a revised, more narrowly worded bill.

Sen. Manchin hinted Tuesday that a new bill might be on the way.

"I truly believe the background check bill is possible to get passed," Manchin said on CBS. "Well ... we're going to have to make some adjustments to it and find out where the comfort zone is. But what we need to do, really, is be out and educate the law-abiding gun owners like myself, people that might belong to the NRA or other gun organizations but don't believe this is a threat to their Second Amendment.

"This bill ... not only protects your Second Amendment," he added, "it expands the Second Amendment."