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Activists target 4 Democrats after gun vote

– Four Democratic senators who defied President Obama to help defeat gun-safety legislation are facing the wrath of activists who promise to make them pay a political price.

Obama said it was a “shameful day” in Washington when the Senate rejected a watered-down bill including expanded background checks for gun-buyers on April 17. Several groups say they plan to punish the four Democrats through newspaper and television ads, protests outside their offices, and automated telephone calls to constituents.

“The level of anger around this is higher than on anything I’ve seen in years, decades,” said Matt Bennett of Third Way, a policy group aligned with Democrats whose founders previously worked on gun-policy issues. “These senators do not have a suitable explanation for what they did.”

Three of the senators are up for re-election in 2014: Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.

North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp was elected in November to her first six-year term.

All are from states that voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president last year. And while the outside groups will target both Democrats and Republicans who voted against the legislation, they are particularly angry at the Democrats who broke ranks and some of the groups are targeting them over Republicans in their first wave of ads.

“We’re shocked,” said Po Murray, a spokeswoman for the Newtown Action Alliance, a group founded to press for stricter gun laws after 20 schoolchildren were killed in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. “We can’t believe those whom we’ve elected to protect our life and liberty would choose special interests instead.”

Though the measure was blocked, the debate about gun control has changed from where it was for almost 20 years, when many Democrats avoided the topic altogether. The last major gun-related law was a 1994 crime bill that included an assault-weapons ban. Democrats lost control of Congress later in the year amid opposition to that and other initiatives. The ban lapsed in 2004.

Still, political observers expressed skepticism that the groups’ efforts would succeed in mostly rural states with a strong gun culture.

“These votes don’t hurt Begich, Pryor and Baucus,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “In fact, some of these groups going into these states probably helps them.”

The measure to expand background checks, a remnant of Obama’s proposals after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, was defeated by the Senate 54-46, with 60 votes required.

Federal law requires a background check to buy a gun from a licensed dealer. The failed amendment would have required checks for purchases over the Internet and between private parties at gun shows.

Obama proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like those gunman Adam Lanza used to kill the 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook. They were dropped from the Senate bill after opposition by the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress.

Mandatory background checks for most gun purchasers are supported by 91 percent of U.S. voters, including 96 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of gun-owning households, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted March 27 through April 1.