This project was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University
Twenty months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, some would say little has changed when it comes to guns in America.
Others would say everything has.
Flurries of gun-related legislation and renewed national attention on the topic have not been enough to change federal gun laws. The National Rifle Association, still the most powerful entity in the war over guns in America, no longer has a monopoly on the debate.
A resurgence of the gun control movement is challenging the status quo, while groups to the right of the NRA are also growing. Nonprofit organizations on each side are battling like they haven’t in years, all trying to shape the country’s politics and win over the American people.
But in spite of the evolving landscape, no progress in either direction is certain.
The gun control movement was nearly $285 million behind the gun rights movement in 2012 revenue raised, before Sandy Hook. Today, it is playing catch-up to the money, membership and political savvy of its opponents as the NRA works to maintain its dominance.
Over the course of this year, News21 reporters, videographers and photojournalists traveled across the country to assess the state of the gun debate, its evolution and emerging issues.
With new groups, a revamped strategy, more money and unprecedented collaboration, the gun control movement has made headway. Organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, the group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say they are moving the needle.
“Now, for the first time in our country’s history, there is a well-financed and formidable force positioned to take on the Washington gun lobby,” said Shannon Watts, founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, speaking at an Everytown event on Capitol Hill in May.
Whether that is possible remains to be seen.
The NRA is strong financially. Its budget has consistently hovered well above $200 million in revenue in recent years and it has cultivated a highly organized grassroots base for more than a century.
As the gun control movement organized in the wake of Sandy Hook, the gun rights movement’s membership boomed. Groups more conservative than the NRA, like the National Association for Gun Rights, are growing. State legislatures across the country passed laws expanding gun rights. The NRA has focused on broadening its appeal.
The NRA frequently targets Bloomberg, who donated $50 million to Everytown in April, though the amount is a quarter of what the NRA raises each year.
“Mr. Bloomberg, you’re an arrogant hypocrite,” said NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox at the organization’s annual convention in April. “Stay out of our homes, stay out of our refrigerators and stay the hell out of our gun cabinets.”
With its near-mythical presence as a political lobby, the NRA is still the best-positioned player in the debate by far, bringing in and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its broad range of programs. Though its grip on Congress has loosened somewhat, it still isn’t letting major federal legislation through or relinquishing its influence on state politics.
An amendment expanding background checks came to a vote in the Senate in April 2013, something gun control advocates saw as a victory. It didn’t get enough votes to pass.