Watch CBSN Live

2014: The next frontier in the gun control battle?

After the Senate struck down a series of measures aiming to strengthen the nation's gun laws last week, Democrats and gun control advocates unleashed their disgust in a flurry of statements and speeches: The hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" led a campaign to publicize the name of everyone who voted against the bill; Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., a victim of mass gun violence, sent out an email shaming Congress for having done "nothing" in the face of mass violence; and in a defiant and emotional speech, President Obama lambasted Congress for having "caved to the pressure" from the gun lobby at the expense of protecting "the lives of all our children."

"This was a pretty shameful day for Washington," the president said Wednesday, flanked by the families of Newtown victims and Giffords, who sustained a bullet wound to the head in 2011's mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. "But this effort is not over. I want to make it clear to the American people we can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence, so long as the American people don't give up on it."

At the moment, the prospects for getting a gun bill through Congress in the near future look dim: On Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled the gun bill from the Senate floor in order to allow negotiations to continue, hitting "pause" on the voting process indefinitely.

And while Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., tells he'd "walk to the gates of hell" to get a vote in the House on a bill similar to the Senate's Manchin-Toomey amendment, passing that bill in the GOP-dominated chamber is by all measures a steep climb.

As Democratic legislators search for a path forward, however, gun advocacy groups are zeroing in on the next phase of their campaign: Getting the gun bill "no" votes voted out of office in 2014.

"You wait until the next November," warned New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in remarks on Thursday, of the lawmakers who voted against the Senate legislation. "How are they going to, a year from November when they're running for election, answer, 'Why didn't you do something to stop that, senator? You had it in your power to do it, and you voted to keep the killing going.' That can't be good politics. It just can't be."

A handful of high-profile advocacy groups are working to make that a guarantee: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg founded, and Americans for Responsible Solutions, helmed by Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, vow they'll go after the lawmakers who are blocking the way to so-called "common sense" gun laws.

"The next step is tapping the extraordinary outrage in the country today and channeling it in a useful direction -- mainly at the senators who voted no and declined to do what 90 percent of the American public asked them to do," said Mark Glaze, a spokesman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "We'll do whatever it takes."

According to Glaze, his group will start by targeting lawmakers through demonstrations across the country, and via volunteer phone calls and robo-calls, all while supporting political candidates with like-minded positions on gun safety. He cites a recent Chicago special election, to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., in which pro-gun groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns led a successful campaign to defeat frontrunner Debbie Halvorson, who had a history of pro-gun positions, as evidence of early success. He also noted that a handful of those senators who ultimately voted for the gun legislation had been undecided prior to being hit with ads in their state sponsored by the group.

"We got a good chunk of them," Glaze said. "We just didn't do well enough."

But 2014 presents a real test - and challenge - for Mayors Against Illegal Guns and other groups like it. If the goal is to prove that gun safety groups can effectively counterbalance the political weight of the National Rifle Association, those groups have to also prove they're capable of posing an equal political threat to candidates who defy their will.

"You do have to change the political calculus," Glaze said. "I have had countless meetings with members of Congress who, sort of astonishingly, not only agree with you but will tell you they agree with you... For a generation the NRA was the only game in town. They had very intense single-issue voters. They had a large and active grassroots list of people who would actually smack legislators around. And they were the only organization spending political money on this issue. But all three of those advantages have been wiped away by the last couple of years."

According to Glaze, the "rapidly escalating series of increasingly extreme mass shootings," combined with a "new set" of high-profile players like Bloomberg, Giffords and Kelly, has changed the movement.

"The NRA's influence isn't all that much, but when you hold it up against nothing it's very easy for members of Congress to ignore you," he said. "They're not going to be able to do that anymore."

Giffords, particularly, has become a what Glaze calls a "sparkling presence" on behalf of the cause: On Thursday, after sending out her initial email and publishing a scathing Tweet decrying Congress for having "ignored" the will of the people, she penned an op-ed in the New York Times begging "every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated" - specifically by pulling their political support.

"Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago," she wrote. "Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities' interests ahead of the gun lobby's."

If groups like hers can pull that off, it would mark a major change in the way gun policy is legislated in America - and an enormous and unprecedented achievement for gun control advocates. But the NRA recently boasted its best fundraising numbers in a decade, raising $1.6 million in February alone, suggesting it still has significant fundraising clout among donors and pro-gun advocates.

Even some Democrats are skeptical that these new gun control groups will be able to effectively target red state candidates to the extent they'd be able to change the composition of Congress.

"I think that they will be players," said one Democratic Party official, of groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "I'm sure that they will be in terms of money that they spend... But I think that while there are a lot of different opinions and they all deserve to be heard and deserve respect, I think our members are listening to their constituents well before they're going to be influenced by any outside groups... whether it's the Senate Conservative Fund or Mayor Bloomberg."

In other words, the official said, he doesn't buy that some of these stricter gun laws could garner a majority of public support in red states. Glaze, who says that his group has polled polls and districts around the country, disagrees: He says their polls show that Montana, a solid red state, had at 79 percent support the lowest approval rating among their polling data for a background check law stronger than that the Senate recently voted down.

Rep. Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, insists that regardless, this issue is not going to go away for lawmakers who voted against stronger gun laws.

"I believe this is going to be a hard one to get by," he said. "Normal, everyday people believe that criminals and those who are dangerously mentally ill should not have a gun. And if you're a member of an elected body and you don't hold that belief I think that's going to be a tough one for you in the next election."

View CBS News In