The National Rifle Association (NRA) is set to mobilize against President Obama’s plan to tighten gun control via executive authority, setting the stage for a new battle between the administration and what may be Washington’s most powerful lobbying group.
The NRA, which defeated similar legislative efforts to expand background checks on gun sales three years ago, is publicly opposing the president’s latest push for gun reform and is widely expected to challenge the executive orders in court.
The NRA did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Though it has beaten back previous attempts to expand background checks on gun sales, the group must contend this time around with heightened concerns over gun violence.
The calls for reform have only grown louder following recent high-profile mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., Colorado Springs, Colo., and at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.
With Congress showing no signs of a willingness to act on gun reform, Obama in October announced his intention to take executive action.
He met Monday with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss the logistics of his plan. The centerpiece of the plan is guidance meant to require more gun sellers to conduct background checks.
Though gun groups are certain to attack the action on legal grounds, some experts said they believe Obama will prevail in court.
The NRA is likely to argue that Obama’s executive action on guns not only violates the spirit of the Second Amendment but is an “unreasonable interpretation” of existing gun law, said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”
“Unfortunately for the NRA, the courts are not likely to agree,” said Winkler. “There is not much the NRA can do. It’s mostly political rhetoric. They can go to court, but they won’t win.”
The gun lobby could also press for legislation that would roll back the president’s executive orders, though this approach is even less likely to succeed, he said.
While the NRA has yet to reveal its plan of attack, the group Gun Owners of America (GOA) has already threatened a lawsuit and is pushing for legislation that would defund the portion of the budget for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that would be used to enforce the executive orders.
“It’s all on the table for us,” said Erich Pratt, GOA’s newly minted executive director.
Gun rights groups have no shortage of experience in fighting gun control efforts.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 ushered in the last major wave of calls from activists for universal background checks.
Under mounting pressure for congressional action, Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Congress nears deal on help for miners Senate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general MORE (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and online sales.
Toomey’s support in particular gave gun control activists a glimmer of hope, given his A-rating at the time from the NRA.
The gun background check bill sped through the Senate but was narrowly defeated on the floor in April of the following year in large part due to lobbying efforts by the NRA, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a campaign to stop the efforts and put lawmakers on notice that it was scoring the vote.
“Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” the NRA wrote in a statement a week before the vote.
The NRA’s threat was successful; only four Republicans defied the gun lobby by voting to expand background checks, while five Democrats broke party ranks and voted against the bill.