2013-12-12 03:01 AM
NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP) -- Last year's shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School -- where 26 people, mostly small children, were shot to death -- profoundly changed the small town of Newtown, Connecticut and thrust gun violence back into the national debate.
The shootings, carried out by a troubled 20-year-old with an assault rifle, were so horrific that many predicted they would force Congress to approve long-stalled legislation to tighten the nation's gun laws.
They did not.
A divided Congress denied President Barack Obama's calls for changes and the national gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, is arguably stronger than ever.
The inaction in Washington underscores the ongoing potency of the NRA and other gun rights groups in Congress where Republicans oppose stricter gun laws and many Democrats are reluctant to anger voters.
Still, Nicole Hockley, who lost her six-year-old son in the shooting, insists she won't lose the fight to reduce gun violence -- no matter how long it takes.
Hockley and other Newtown parents are fighting to stay optimistic as they work to build a national operation backed by an alliance of well-funded organizations working to pressure Congress ahead of next fall's elections.
Hockley belongs to a group called Sandy Hook Promise, which recently started a campaign to recruit 500,000 parents nationwide to join its effort before this week's anniversary. They're enlisting the help of celebrities such as including Sofia Vergara, Ed O'Neill and Alyssa Milano.
"I know it's not a matter of if it happens. It's a matter of when. This absolutely keeps me going," says Hockley, who joined a handful of Newtown parents in a private White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden this week.
Other anti-gun groups are sending dozens of paid staff into key states, enlisting thousands of volunteer activists and preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars against politicians who stand in the way of their goals.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is installing paid staff in more than a dozen states expected to take up gun control legislation next year to complement a robust Washington lobbying operation and television ads.
Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in 2011, also promises to be a major player, despite health limitations. Her group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, has created a nonprofit and political action committee on pace to raise more than $20 million before the midterms, according to group officials.
"You can't have 20 first-graders murdered in their classroom, and have a country that's done nothing about it and just think the issue's going away," says Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. "We're going to keep the press on."
Surveys, however, suggest support for new gun laws is slipping as memory of the December 14, 2012 shooting fades.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that that 52 percent of Americans favor stricter gun laws, while 31 percent want them left as they are and 15 percent say they should be loosened. But the strength of the support for tighter controls has dropped since January, when 58 percent said gun laws should be tightened and just 5 percent felt they were too strong.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Newtown, Connecticutl, Alan Fram in Washington, Susan Haigh in Connecticut and Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.