Yesterday's Senate Vote Was Lost in 1994

While yesterday's Senate vote may be disappointing, frustrating and even heart breaking for many, it should not come as a surprise. To understand how the Senate failed to pass the most basic, watered down attempt to strengthen background checks on gun purchases, you have to go back to the assault weapons ban of 1994.

That's when the NRA suffered its last real defeat. Every day since then for the past 20 years the NRA has been systematically building power at every level -- local, state and federal -- in preparation for a moment like yesterday. Every. Single. Day.

They have been engaged in an integrated, relentless effort to ensure they never again suffer a defeat like that. They fundraise for candidates who support their positions. They challenge sensible gun laws in court. They replenish their ranks with new members. They fight every single policy attempt at the local, state and federal levels to reduce gun violence. And they have so successfully marketed and framed the gun rights debate that to be a supporter of gun restrictions has become tantamount to being anti-American and hating freedom.

That's why even in the face of the Sandy Hook tragedy, when polls show overwhelming majorities of Americans favor background checks and other moderate provisions to reduce gun violence, the NRA is able to successfully block the Senate measure from passing. Their singular focus is simultaneously awe-inspiring and despicable. But one thing it is not is accidental.

The NRA has relentlessly built their power base. For 20 years their leadership has been thinking about and working on ways to strengthen their position for a day just like yesterday. And they don't take a break -- ever. So when gun violence isn't the top news story, and lawmakers and the news media and progressive organizations are busy focusing on other issues, the NRA is still solely focused on the gun issue.

Don't get me wrong. Organizations such as The Brady Campaign and Cure Violence are fighting the good fight. But there's an undeniable and critical difference between having organizations and having a movement. Organizations can rally support when an issue is in the spotlight, but that's no match for a movement that has been built, trained and mobilized for years with exceptional focus.

The gun control fight will continue this year, and gun violence will certainly be a hot topic during the 2014 mid-term elections. But then what? History shows that the intensity of public focus will diminish and along with it Congressional and Presidential efforts at sensible reforms. But if we're really serious about changing the gun culture and enacting sensible reforms that reduce gun violence then the answer has been staring us in the face all along: take a page out of the NRA's book and build a movement for the long-term. By steadily and methodically creating a movement that represents the majority of Americans -- including many gun owners -- we can create a counter-weight to the NRA. Such an effort must be prepared to fight the NRA on all fronts -- at the grassroots and in the halls of power, in the courtroom and the court of public opinion.

The same way 1994 galvanized the NRA, today can be our tipping point. If we seize this moment we too can look back at 2014 as the year we got smart and built a powerful movement that dramatically reduced gun violence and changed the American gun culture forever.