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Gun rights groups flex muscle in new GOP-controlled Congress

The gun lobby is back on offense under the new GOP-controlled Congress.

The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups are teaming with majority Republicans in efforts to loosen firearm restrictions, block background check legislation, and have already forced the Obama administration to back down from a controversial ammunition regulations.

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The aggressive push follows years in which gun rights advocates have fought tooth and nail to beat back gun control legislation bills in the divided Congress, including a flurry of bills proposed following the 2012 Newtown, Conn. elementary school massacre.

"Make no mistake about it, the American people do not want more gun control and now we have a more pro-Second Amendment Congress,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told The Hill.

The NRA flexed its muscle this week, pressuring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to shelve a plan that would have prohibited certain types of armor-piercing bullets used in high-powered AR-15 rifles.
 
The ATF proposed the bullet ban last month, but pulled it back Tuesday after being overwhelmed with nearly 90,000 public comments, the “vast majority” of which were negative, the agency said.

The move angered congressional Democrats and gun control advocates, who responded with appeals urging the agency urging it to revive the proposal.


“The question remains, ‘Why would a civilian need to walk the streets with a handgun chambered with military-grade, armor-piercing ammunition?’” asked Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  

 The bullet ban was aimed at armor-piercing legislation that has traditionally been used in AR-15 hunting rifles, but can be used in handguns.

The ATF had argues these bullets are a danger to police because they can pierce body armor and are more easily concealed by criminals in handguns. The agency also pointed out there are no fewer than 168 other types of bullets that would still be allowed for use in AR-15 rifles.

"I want to make sure everyone understands that this was not — contrary to the blogosphere — an effort to completely ban that sort of cartridge,” Jones told lawmakers in a hearing this week.

Even so, the ATF announced Tuesday it would take a step back and regroup, but Republicans and gun rights groups plan to press forward with what they view as a pro-Second Amendment agenda.

"I think Congress has never been more pro-gun than it is now," said Larry Keane, general counsel at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The foundation is hoping to build on the recent momentum by pushing the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act that would increase opportunities for hunters and fishermen on public lands.

The bill, championed by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (R-Alaska) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichCongress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Senate rejects centrist immigration bill after Trump veto threat Dem senators want list of White House officials with interim security clearances MORE (D-N.M.), was introduced earlier this month.

Gun rights supporters are also pushing legislation that would expand concealed carry laws around the country.

The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act reintroduced last month by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) would allow people with concealed carry permits in one state to bring their guns into other states.

The measure is a top priority for the NRA.

"It's time for Congress to pass national right-to-carry reciprocity for the entire United States," NRA chief Wayne LaPierre declared late last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The bill’s backers believe they can secure enough Democratic votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and send the legislation to President Obama’s desk.

The president would almost certainly veto the bill. Still, such a feat would be a victory for the groups, who have been unable to move any significant legislation expanding gun rights through in the last six years.

Gun control groups say the Republican legislation poses a “significant danger” to society, because it would force states with strict gun laws to recognize the concealed carry permits given to people in states with weaker gun laws.

Meanwhile, proponents of tighter gun restrictions face an even tougher road ahead in their push for universal background checks for all commercial gun sales.

The Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act introduced earlier this month by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) would beef up requirements for firearm sales made online and at gun shows. 

“This bill is anti-criminal, and will help keep spouses, kids and communities safe by preventing dangerous people from getting guns,” Thompson said.