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: PARENTS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUTH FOOTBALL

Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.

In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.

Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.

Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.

Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.

Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.

“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”

Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.

“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”

Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.

JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.

“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”

Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.

One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.

“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”


AP-GfK Poll: Most say the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

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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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

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Online:

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