Uh-oh. The big, bad NRA is hearing footsteps | Stu Bykofsky

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NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch: Did she threaten reporters?

There is something in the air, and it’s not the smell of gunpowder.

At a news conference Monday in Philadelphia, two U.S. senators from these parts announced they would introduce a bill requiring federal authorities to notify states when a felon or fugitive attempts to buy a gun and fails a background check. In other words, a gun law. Something the National Rifle Association hates.

You heard me right: Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, a conservative, and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, a liberal, say their proposed legislation would get those who try to illegally buy guns on the radar of state law enforcement.

Camera icon Jacqueline Larma / Associated Press
 Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) speaks during a news conference alongside . Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) Monday, March 5, 2018, in Philadelphia. Their bill would require federal authorities to notify states when a felon or a fugitive tries to buy a firearm but fails the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but far from all of the answers,” Jeff Dempsey, program director of CeaseFirePA, tells me.  Things are changing, he says: “Even the assault weapons ban” is doing better in the polls.

Not so the 800-pound gorilla that is the NRA. It is used to having its way, but that may be changing. Water can cut through rock, and public sentiment is crumbling the NRA’s safe space. The 17 deaths in Parkland, Fla., have lit a fuse.

Who would have believed that U.S. corporations would renounce partnership deals with the NRA? But more than a dozen big companies have done just that.

The smack-down is the result of the NRA’s fanatical opposition to even the mildest reforms. Take the universal background check to keep guns out of the hands of felons, terrorists, and patients being treated for mental illness. The NRA opposes it, but it is favored by 97 percent of Americans. The only people opposed, it seems, are the families of NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Speaking of Loesch, she posted a video statement that some believe is an actual threat against reporters. The video also mentions Hollywood phonies, athletes, television anchors, politicians, and others whom the NRA doesn’t like, with the dark words “Your time is running out.”

Because I am not a precious snowflake, I brush it off as a metaphor intended to mean that the media’s time dominating the debate is running out and that the NRA will triumph.

But will it really?

The Toomey/Coons bill has heavyweight cosponsors: Sens. John Cornyn (R., Texas), Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), and Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.).

In a surprise move, the Florida Senate on Monday passed a bill to increase to 21 the minimum age for buying a rifle, and creating a waiting period before purchase.

Other bills are flowering in other states, and who better to list them than the NRA itself, which it does on its website. The NRA, of course, opposes any attempt to restrict access to guns, by anyone.

In the 2016 election cycle, the NRA directly contributed more than $1 million to candidates and spent more than $3 million on lobbying. But here’s a little secret about the NRA: The amount it gives a candidate is not how it buys obedience. It’s the threat of funding a primary opponent if a politician votes against the NRA.

Here and there, elected officials are beginning to pay more attention to their constituents than to the bullying of the NRA.

The NRA can’t fight everyone, everywhere. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it may not be the beginning of the end, it may not even be the end of the beginning, but it feels like the beginning.