SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to stir up some political consequences for members of Congress who voted last week against expanded background checks for gun purchases. The mayor is using his personal fortune to try to challenge the political clout of the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, Mr. Bloomberg's first target is a Democratic senator facing a tough fight for re-election in 2014.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Mark Pryor is a marked man - and he knows it. Whether he's actually sweating it is the question. He's said it before, and he's saying it now: He doesn't take gun advice from the mayor of New York City. He listens to Arkansas.
SENATOR MARK PRYOR: I guess the way I look at it it's just another one of the outside groups that's going to try to come in. And, honestly, that's what's wrong with politics today, is all these outside groups come in and try to do that. But I can't stop it from happening, so.
CHANG: And with that, Pryor hurried onto an underground train that will whisk him away from reporters back to his office at the Capitol. Pryor was one of four Democrats who voted against a proposal to expand background checks last week, and Mayor Bloomberg, the founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is trying to make sure Pryor pays. Bloomberg will pour money into months of TV ads, radio ads and mailings to defeat the Arkansas senator. His group says it has spent $12 million in the months since the Newtown on field campaigns and commercials across the country.
JOHN FEINBLATT: And this is just a toe in the water.
CHANG: That's John Feinblatt, Bloomberg's chief policy adviser. And toe in the water is right. We're talking about a guy Forbes estimates to be worth about $27 billion. Bloomberg will also be doling out money to help re-election campaigns of lawmakers who voted for gun control - both Democrats and Republicans.
FEINBLATT: The mayor and others are going to provide the political counterweight to the NRA. It has had the field to itself for decades, and that has to stop. And that time has come.
CHANG: Since 1994, when the first assault weapons ban passed, the NRA has been able to operate with almost no opposition that's as well-funded, well-organized and intense as its own members. Feinblatt says Senator Pryor is just the beginning. Another Senate target will likely to be Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who's facing re-election in 2016. Her predecessor, Judd Gregg, had voted to extend the assault weapons ban, so many gun control groups see New Hampshire as the next best place to land another supporter.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Ayotte voted against approving background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Are you serious? Eighty-nine percent of the people in New Hampshire support universal background checks. What, she just ignored us?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Sure did.
CHANG: This ad and another one taking shots at Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will run for two weeks. Americans for Responsible Solutions funded the commercials. That's the group former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords formed after she was shot in the head in 2011 Executive director Pia Carusone says the campaign isn't about changing the minds of constituents, it's about reminding them how their senators voted.
PIA CARUSONE: We're not actually looking to convince people, right? I mean, you know, we don't need to move the needle from 90 to 99 percent. The public is with us on this.
CHANG: It's unclear when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring up gun control legislation again. In the weeks - probably months - ahead, Giffords' group plans to keep the pressure on by urging constituents to call their lawmakers. President Obama's political arm, Organizing for Action, is doing the same. But Carusone says the real challenge will be to make guns important enough as an issue to sway voters' choices in 2014 and 2016.
CARUSONE: Until now, we have not seen a single-issue voter movement of people that are considering gun safety policy, gun violence policy, as a number one issue of how they vote.
CHANG: This week, many gun control groups met with Vice President Joe Biden to figure out strategies going forward. And they say Biden reminded them it took several tries over seven years before background checks finally passed under the Brady Bill in 1993. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.