The National Rifle Association (NRA)
, which promotes gun ownership and the constitutional American right to bear arms, is a powerful voice against gun control in the United States.
On Friday, in response to last week's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, the NRA urged the government to put armed guards at all U.S. schools, rejecting renewed calls for stricter gun control laws.
With about four million paying members, the NRA is a major political force. The group has promoted gun ownership for more than 141 years.
"The National Rifle Association is what we call a heavy hitter," says Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation
, a group that tracks political contributions made by the NRA. "They are powerful both because they have a wide membership base across the country and because they raise money and use it in politically savvy ways."
Through television ads and campaign contributions, analysts say the NRA spends millions of dollars every year to lobby members of Congress. It has successfully opposed efforts to reinstate a ban on assault weapons which expired in 2004.
The group is generous toward candidates who support its positions, and actively opposes those it sees as adversaries.
"Gun owners vote and its bad politics to be anti-Second Amendment [gun-ownership rights] in an election year," says Wayne LaPierre, NRA's outspoken executive vice president.
The NRA also gives grades to lawmakers who support its causes, which mmeans the NRA is often feared among politicians.
"They are feared because they can turn out the vote," says Kiely,"and they can turn out lots and lots of campaign contributions either to support a politician or oppose a politician."
This month's Connecticut school shooting, where 20 young children and six adults were killed by a man using an assault rifle, renewed the gun control debate.
It has also put the NRA on the defensive.
Now, some longtime allies of the gun lobby are calling on the NRA to work with Congress to enact sensible gun control laws.
"The NRA and other gun rights advocates groups, they are not wrong about everything in this issue," says Congressman John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky. "I don't believe they are wrong, but they have never been willing to participate in addressing reasonable approaches to gun violence. They've never been able to sit down at the table."
Even gun sellers question the NRA's ability to push back against calls for a ban on military-style assault weapons, and high-capacity ammunition magazines, similar to those used in the Connecticut killings.
"When you got 20 dead kids who are massacred it doesn't matter how much power the NRA has," says Andrew Raymond, a gun dealer in Maryland. "It is almost a foregone conclusion that we are going to see some sort of legislation that will severely restrict these guns."
The growing anger over senseless mass shootings may be a tipping point, perhaps altering the strength of the NRA's political power to fight back against stronger gun control laws.