Jewish Gun Control Backers Plan New Push

Hope To Revive Measures That Died — Or Fight at Polls

Not Giving Up: Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are among the Jewish lawmakers leading the gun control fight.
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Not Giving Up: Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are among the Jewish lawmakers leading the gun control fight.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 23, 2013.
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“There is a very, very clear feeling from the President down that this effort is going to continue,” said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a liberal Jewish advocacy group engaged in the gun control debate.

“Organizations,” Susskind said, “will now bring more people and invest more energy. Many who have not done much are now saying they will call their senators.”

But Jewish political power is concentrated mainly among Democrats and liberals, while the senators who voted against the amendment are mostly Republicans and representatives of Southern states. Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, argued this should not be a barrier for Jewish gun control supporters. “Even when the community is small, it has a relationship with its representatives,” she said.

As an example, Laser noted that Reform Jews in Anchorage, Alaska were now working hard to convince Senator Mark Begich, one of four Democrats who voted against the amendment, to change his mind.

Other Jewish activists are focusing on making those who defeated the legislation pay a price — by being replaced. Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, vowed to take the fight to the 2014 election cycle, when some of the senators who voted against the bill, and who are seen as vulnerable, will be up for re-election. Prime among these are Democrats Begich, Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Baucus announced on April 23 that he will retire and not run for another term.

Bloomberg said in a statement that his group “will work to make sure that voters don’t forget.” Giffords voiced a similar sentiment, tweeting after the vote that “If Congress won’t change laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change members of Congress.”

Bloomberg and Giffords bring genuine firepower to the battle in terms of deep pockets and public sympathy, respectively. But they will still face a powerful gun lobby that has cultivated longstanding relations with lawmakers from conservative leaning states and has proved its political savvy in defeating even the slightest changes to gun-related legislation.

In the month prior to the Senate vote, Bloomberg footed the bill for a $12 million ad campaign, which ran in 13 states and was aimed at pressuring lawmakers to support expanded background checks. He will no doubt spend generously in the 2014 elections. But in the previous 2012 campaign cycle, the National Rifle Association, which is just the largest of several gun rights groups, spent $18.6 million, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks money in political races.


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