The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 28, 2013

Gun control backers struggle to win some Democrats

— WASHINGTON (AP) — It would seem a lobbyist's dream: rounding up votes for a proposal backed by more than 8 in 10 people in polls. Yet, gun control supporters are struggling to win over moderate Democrats in their drive to push expanded background checks for firearms purchasers through the Senate next month.

Backed by a $12 million TV advertising campaign financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control groups scheduled rallies around the country Thursday aimed at pressuring senators to back the effort. President Barack Obama was meeting at the White House with gun violence victims.

Moderate Senate Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are shunning Bloomberg as a meddling outsider while stressing their allegiance to their own voters' views and to gun rights. While saying they are keeping an open mind and that they support keeping guns from criminals and people with mental disorders, many Democrats are avoiding specific commitments they might regret later.

"I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans," Heitkamp said this week, citing the constitutional right to bear arms.

Heitkamp does not face re-election next year, but Pryor and five other Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning or closely divided states do. All six, from Southern and Western states, will face voters whose deep attachment to guns is unshakeable — not to mention opposition from the still-potent National Rifle Association, should they vote for restrictions the NRA opposes.

"We have a politically savvy and a loyal voting bloc, and the politicians know that," said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA, which claims nearly 5 million paying members.

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