- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2014

Democrats in Congress, following the lead of President Obama, are now playing small ball on gun control after their post-Newtown hopes of significant legislation were dashed.

Capitol Hill Democrats are now focusing on modest moves, such as funding gun-violence prevention and calling for “smart guns” that only authorized users can operate.

For their part, prominent gun-control groups are looking outside Washington and toward the private sector, where they hope to pressure companies to disassociate themselves from guns and gun transactions.

An affiliate of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for example, is demanding that Facebook and Instagram “prohibit gun sales from [their] platforms immediately,” pointing to an Iowa man arrested after, authorities say, using Facebook to facilitate an illegal gun purchase involving an undercover police officer.

But a Facebook spokesman said it already prohibits sales or promotion of weapons in advertising, and said they encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence delivered a petition with 5,100 signatures to Visa’s D.C. offices Thursday, demanding that the credit-card company end an affiliate program with the NRA. Visa did not respond to a request for comment on the petition drive.

On Capitol Hill, the action is chiefly on the funding side.

Last month’s spending bill to fund government operations in 2014 contained $8.5 million for programs to reduce gun crimes and gang violence, $58.5 million for grants to states to get them to turn over more records to the federal background check system — an increase of $40 million over fiscal 2013 levels — and $128 million for the FBI to operate the background checks.

A year ago at this time, the Senate was gearing up for a big debate over major gun-control legislation, including a ban on high-powered, semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as requiring background checks for all gun purchases.

Those plans, however, collapsed in April, when they fell victim to a GOP-led filibuster.

“I think all of you have to remember it’s going to be a long battle,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, told gun-control advocates at a recent event on Capitol Hill.

The flurry of gun-control bills after the Dec. 2012 shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has shrunk to a trickle, with lawmakers now settling for non-binding resolutions condemning gun violence.

“Instead of shooting for the moon, they said, ‘Maybe if we small-ball things we can get going,’” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said of the most recent efforts, while adding that gun-rights groups such as the NRA would be following even “small ball” items quite closely.

Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, did renew a push to require all newly-manufactured handguns to be “personalized” with technology that prevents them from being used by criminals or the mentally ill.

But the momentum appears to be going in the other direction.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, tried to lift a federal ban on carrying firearms into post offices earlier this month. That effort failed in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but the panel did vote unanimously to allow guns on post office grounds, though not the buildings themselves.

“After Newtown, gun rights were on the ropes — at least it appeared,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law expert at the UCLA School of Law. “Perhaps the Newtown effect is starting to fade.”

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