NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Having already lost her 6-year-old son, Nicole Hockley insists she won’t lose the fight to reduce gun violence — no matter how long it takes.

She is among a group of “accidental activist” parents brought together one year ago by almost unthinkable grief after the Newtown school massacre. The shootings were so horrific that many predicted they would force Congress to approve long-stalled legislation to tighten the nation’s gun laws.

They did not.

A divided Congress denied President Barack Obama’s calls for changes. The national gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, is arguably stronger than ever. And surveys suggest that support for new gun laws is slipping as the Newtown memory fades.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that that 52 percent of Americans favor stricter gun laws, while 31 percent want them left as they are and 15 percent say they should be loosened. But the strength of the support for tighter controls has dropped since January, when 58 percent said gun laws should be tightened and just 5 percent felt they were too strong.

After a year of personal suffering and political frustration, Hockley and other Newtown parents are fighting to stay optimistic as their effort builds a national operation backed by an alliance of well-funded organizations working to pressure Congress ahead of next fall’s elections. The groups are sending dozens of paid staff into key states, enlisting thousands of volunteer activists and preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars against politicians who stand in the way of their goals.

It may well take time, they say, to counter the influence of the NRA on Capitol Hill.

“I know it’s not a matter of if it happens. It’s a matter of when. This absolutely keeps me going,” says Hockley, who joined a handful of Newtown parents in a private White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden this week. “No matter how much tragedy affects you, you have to find a way forward. You have to invest in life.”

Hockley’s son Dylan was among 26 people shot to death — including 20 first graders — last Dec. 14 inside Sandy Hook Elementary. The shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a military-style assault rifle in the Friday-morning attack that ended when he killed himself.

The shootings profoundly changed this small Connecticut community and thrust gun violence back into the national debate. Led by Obama, gun control advocates called for background checks for all gun purchasers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Hockley and other Newtown parents hastened into action, privately lobbying members of Congress for changes. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has spent roughly $15 million this year on advertising to influence the debate. And former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in 2011, launched a national tour calling for background checks.

Yet Congress has enacted no new gun curbs since the Newtown shooting.

The inaction in Washington underscores the ongoing potency of the NRA and other gun rights groups, opposition from most Republicans and the reluctance of many Democrats from GOP-leaning states to anger voters by further restricting firearms.

Nearly eight months since the Senate rejected expanded background checks for gun buyers — the year’s foremost legislative effort on the issue — Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hasn’t found the five votes he would need to revive the measure. He has said he won’t revisit the bill until he has the 60 votes he would need to prevail.

Says Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy: “I was repulsed by the inability of the Congress of the United States to deal with reality.”

But there is little sign of resentment or resignation from the most prominent gun control groups. They’re re-doubling their efforts before next fall’s elections.

The head of Bloomberg’s organization says that the billionaire New York mayor is installing paid staff in more than a dozen states expected to take up gun control legislation next year to complement a robust Washington lobbying operation and television ads.

“In 2012, the mayor spent about $10 million or so dipping his toe in the water. I guess we’ll find out what the whole foot looks like in 2014,” said Mark Glaze, Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ executive director.

Giffords’ also promises to be a major player, despite health limitations. Her group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, has created a nonprofit and political action committee on pace to raise more than $20 million before the midterms, according to group officials.

“You can’t have 20 first-graders murdered in their classroom, and have a country that’s done nothing about it and just think the issue’s going away,” says Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. “We’re going to keep the press on.”

Hockley belongs to a group called Sandy Hook Promise, which recently started a campaign to recruit 500,000 parents nationwide to join its effort before this week’s anniversary. They’re enlisting the help of celebrities such as including Sofia Vergara, Ed O’Neill and Alyssa Milano.

Yet there’s division even among like-minded groups over whether to push for background checks or a less-contentious mental health bill.

Sandy Hook Promise is now focusing more on mental health. Bloomberg is pushing aggressively for background checks. And Giffords’ group wants both, although Kelly says he has low expectations for background checks in the short term.

Like other Newtown parents, Mark Barden is undeterred.

“We’re trying to change the culture, and you don’t do that in a couple of months or a couple of years even,” says Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son Daniel in last year’s shooting. “All my eggs are in this basket from now on. I have an obligation to my little Daniel.”

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington, Susan Haigh in Connecticut and Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

AP-GfK Poll: No agreement on how to pay for highways

By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.

Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.

Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.

“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”

Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.

It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.

The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.

The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.

“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.

Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.

But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.

A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK poll: Americans ready to close the book on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.

Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about the chance that a stable democratic government will be established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.

Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that in hindsight, each war will be deemed as an outright “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”

A majority of those polled, or 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.

Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries that remain in turmoil.

“What’s so successful about it? We didn’t do anything there. The Taliban. They’re still there. We haven’t done anything and now we’re pulling everybody out of there,” Philip said. “And now this Islamic group is over there taking over Iraq.”

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries that objective is in peril — their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.

Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.

Fifty percent — up 18 points in the past seven months — think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent — up from 16 percent in December 2009 — expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.

The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.

Melody Fisher, a 58-year-old midwife from Prescott, Ariz., was among the roughly 25 percent who didn’t think it was time yet for American troops to return from Afghanistan, where about 2,340 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed. She said she wasn’t convinced that the U.S. had finished its work there.

“I used to work with refuges so I’m very aware of the conditions that people have to live in,” said Fisher, a midwife who spent time helping resettle Cambodian refugees. “Our country, our nation, has no idea about the day-to-day things that people have to go through in many places.”

People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.

Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.

Older Americans also are more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Associated Press director of polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com