INDIANAPOLIS — Organizers behind Everytown for Gun Safety, the new advocacy group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, say one of their top priorities is to turn guns into a women's issue, akin to abortion or health care, and mobilize mothers ahead of the midterm elections in November.
Women at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting this weekend said, "Bring it on!"
"It shouldn't be an issue and you should be able to just have your Second Amendment and be able to live your life," said Linda Elliott, 25, a spokeswoman for 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control.
"But they make it that important because they're trying so hard, so you have to rise to the occasion. You have to fight back. So if they're going to make it an issue, then great — go for it."
Democrats have made it clear that targeting female voters will be a central part of their legislative strategy. In Washington, they are pushing issues such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which they say will benefit women disproportionately.
As for advocacy efforts on guns, Everytown's combining the national profile of Mr. Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns with the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a smart strategic move, said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution who tracks the gun issue.
"For 20 years, it was essentially the NRA on one side and nobody who even approached that level of organization on the other side," he said. "Are they going to get it done? Maybe, but they don't know until they try. They're doing all the right things."
However, the Everytown campaign cost Mr. Bloomberg's group some high-profile support at the weekend as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge resigned. Through a spokesman, the former Pennsylvania governor and the first homeland security secretary told The Daily Caller, "I am uncomfortable with their expected electoral work."
Mr. Bloomberg's pledge to spend $50 million on gun control efforts this year has clearly lit a fire under gun rights supporters. His name was met with universal scorn and derision from speakers and audiences in Indianapolis.
Beth Banister, 28, the group's Arizona state coordinator, said defending gun rights is on the side of choice.
"You know with an abortion or anything else, I should have the choice of anything I'm going to do," she said. "If I want to protect myself, that women's right to choose — we should have that opportunity, end of story."
Ms. Banister was looking ahead to the fall elections after expressing disappointment with some of outgoing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's vetoes of gun-related legislation. Ms. Banister said she hopes Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn't run to fill the Republican's seat because he could peel off conservative support and effectively boost a Democratic contender.
Statistics show that many women are on the same page as Ms. Elliott and Ms. Banister.
Female participation in hunting increased 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, from 3.04 million to 3.35 million, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group representing the firearms and ammunition industries.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said in his speech over the weekend that his wife, Karen, owns more guns than he does.
"I don't know about most men, but, you know, the default gift for most men is to buy flowers on a special occasion," he said. "For me, the safe bet: ammo."
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, despite being out of elective politics for close to five years, revved up a boisterous crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night at the NRA's "Stand and Fight" rally.
She devoted part of her speech to an appeal to women.
"Maybe our kids could be defended against criminals on the spot if more Mama Grizzlies carried," she said. "And [the] Obama administration wants you ID'd for that? Well then, go ahead and carry a sign too. A sign that says, 'Yeah, I carry a gun, because a cop is too heavy.'"
The NRA annual meetings included multiple forums exclusively for women, including the first Women's New Energy Breakfast for attendees to meet female NRA staff, board members and volunteers. Among the exhibits in the massive hall at the center of the Indiana Convention Center were booths offering gun purses and hunting gear for women.
"I think they're finally realizing that if you just soften it up a little bit, you know, appeal to the women just a little bit, most of them are itching at the chance to be able to learn how to shoot. They just don't want to be judged, they don't want to be looked down on, they don't want to embarrass themselves," Ms. Elliott said. "So if you open that up, women are finding out that they can do it."
Mary Callison, 31, of Joliet, Ill., said NRA gatherings are immensely helpful even in her deep-blue home state, where like-minded people from states with varying gun policies can come together and strategize.
"It lights a fire to make you want to go back and [say] 'What else can I do? Who else can I call?'" she said. "Attend the rallies. Go to those meetings. We have anti-gun rallies in Illinois all the time. We have to go to those. They're an hour away, but it's worth the drive to show them just how much we still care about our rights."
NRA leadership made it clear that the group will have a role to play in the fall election campaigns. The top fight between the two major political parties will be for control of the U.S. Senate.
"If you're wondering where the NRA's muscle is, it's right here in this room," NRA President Jim Porter said. "There's millions more of us out there all across America, and we're going to flex that muscle in November and the [November] after that, and I know you can't wait until 2016."
The moms group plans to flex its own muscle. Ms. Elliott said 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control announced its own super PAC over the weekend.
If Colorado can manage a strong, two-way governor's race, Ms. Elliott said, gun rights supporters can turn back some of the gun controls that were enacted last year. Ms. Elliott was involved in the successful recall efforts of some state legislators who supported tougher gun control.
Staying active in Colorado, which had the high-profile recall elections and a potentially competitive U.S. Senate race this fall, is one thing. But Ms. Banister said that keeping up pressure even in a pro-gun state like Arizona is vital as well.
"I get people asking me all the time, 'Why are you against gun control? We don't have that problem here in Arizona — why are you going down to the capital? Why are you sitting here and fighting all this?'" she said. "Because I'm an American. This is my duty to wake you up."
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