Four years af­ter New­town, gun con­trol ad­vo­cates tai­lor ef­forts

The Denver Post - - NEWS NATION & WORLD - By Su­san Haigh

hart­ford, conn.» With the elec­tion of NRA-backed Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent, gun con­trol ad­vo­cates are putting more em­pha­sis on a long-term strat­egy of elect­ing like-minded law­mak­ers, pass­ing state leg­is­la­tion and fos­ter­ing a grass­roots net­work that grew out of the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing four years ago.

Ac­tivists say they have gen­er­ated a big enough sup­port base since the mas­sacre of 20 chil­dren and six adults in­side the New­town school­house to by­pass Washington and push for state-level mea­sures such as uni­ver­sal back­ground checks and per­suade more restau­rant chains to stop al­low­ing pa­trons to carry guns.

“We’re piv­ot­ing to the states and to Amer­i­can busi­nesses and say­ing, ‘OK, when Congress won’t pro­tect con­stituents, it’s up to state law­mak­ers and com­pa­nies to pro­tect their con­stituents and cus­tomers,’ ” said Shannon Watts, who founded Moms De­mand Ac­tion for Gun Sense in Amer­ica fol­low­ing the Sandy Hook shoot­ing of Dec. 14, 2012. “It’s a proven, ef­fec­tive strat­egy and win­ning strat­egy. And we’re go­ing to keep at it as long as it takes — to point Congress and the Supreme Court in the di­rec­tion the na­tion is headed in.”

Watts’ group counts 3 mil­lion peo­ple as mem­bers, and she said it has ben­e­fited from a surge of in­ter­est since the elec­tion, with stand­ing-room-only events in West Vir­ginia and the Caroli­nas af­ter Trump’s win. Among its next pri­or­i­ties, the group wants to help pass a re­quire­ment for back­ground checks on gun buy­ers in New Mex­ico and to de­feat an Ohio bill that would al­low guns in ar­eas in­clud­ing day care cen­ters, po­lice sta­tions and col­leges.

Sup­port­ers of more re­stric­tive gun laws were en­cour­aged by some vic­to­ries on Elec­tion Day. In New Hamp­shire’s Se­nate race, Repub­li­can Sen. Kelly Ay­otte nar­rowly lost to Demo­cratic Gov. Mag­gie Has­san af­ter be­ing tar­geted by gun-con­trol groups and a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee of Con­necti­cut Sen. Chris Mur­phy.

They are also heart­ened that re­lated bal­lot ini­tia­tives passed in three states — Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Washington — in this year’s elec­tion. Cal­i­for­nia’s mea­sure pro­hibits the pos­ses­sion of large-ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines and re­quires cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als to un­dergo back­ground checks be­fore they can buy ammo. Ne­vada vot­ers re­quired firearm trans­fers go through a li­censed gun dealer, a process that in­volves a back­ground check. And the Washington mea­sure will al­low courts to is­sue so­called ex­treme risk pro­tec­tion or­ders to re­move guns from some­one show­ing signs they’re a risk to them­selves or oth­ers.

Those mea­sures come af­ter groups suc­cess­fully per­suaded res­tau­rants and stores in­clud­ing Star­bucks, Tar­get, Trader Joe’s and Pan­era to stop al­low­ing cus­tomers to bring in guns.

But ad­vo­cates still had their hopes set on Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton win­ning the pres­i­dency.

“We al­ways knew it would be a marathon and not a sprint,” said Po Mur­ray, chair of the New­town Ac­tion Al­liance, a group also cre­ated af­ter the school shoot­ing. “But this is a ma­jor bump in the road in our marathon.”

Firearms en­thu­si­asts are ex­pect­ing a sweep­ing ex­pan­sion of gun rights with Trump in the White House and con­tin­ued Repub­li­can con­trol of Congress. Their pri­or­i­ties in­clude elim­i­nat­ing gun-free zones at schools, re­duc­ing re­quire­ments for back­ground checks and en­sur­ing that con­cealed-carry hand­gun per­mits from one state are rec­og­nized ev­ery­where in the U.S.

“This is our his­toric mo­ment to go on the of­fen­sive and to de­feat the forces that have aligned against our free­dom once and for all,” said Wayne LaPierre, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, in a video re­leased af­ter the Nov. 8 elec­tion.

Still, some groups that likely will op­pose such steps are tak­ing a wait-and-see at­ti­tude with Trump, while mov­ing ahead with their causes.

Mark Bar­den, whose 7-year-old son, Daniel, was among those killed in New­town, is the co­founder of Sandy Hook Prom­ise, an or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to pre­vent gun vi­o­lence deaths through var­i­ous ini­tia­tives. Bar­den said he is heart­ened the Se­nate gave fi­nal ap­proval last week to a bill aimed at im­prov­ing ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices, some­thing Sandy Hook Prom­ise has sought for nearly four years.

Bar­den said he is also en­cour­aged more peo­ple are be­ing trained to re­duce bul­ly­ing and rec­og­nize signs of gun vi­o­lence.

“We know that gun vi­o­lence is pre­ventable if you know the signs. And that doesn’t re­quire an act of Congress,” Bar­den said. He said his group can con­tinue its ef­forts to bet­ter pro­tect chil­dren “re­gard­less of who is in the White House.”

Firearms train­ing De­tec­tive Bar­bara J. Matt­son of the Con­necti­cut State Po­lice holds a Bush­mas­ter AR-15 ri­fle, the same make and model of gun used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing. Jes­sica Hill, The Associated Press

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