It's called "plucking the bird," a strategy based on the analogy of pulling one feather at a time so the bird doesn't notice until it realizes it can't fly.
That appears to be how the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress are trying to overcome what would seem to be overwhelming public support for stronger gun legislation in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.
A sophisticated campaign led by the influential gun lobby shifts the focus of the battle among various provisions, raises new arguments to old issues and proposes solutions that would expand weapons use and training instead of increasing regulation.
"The NRA's modus operandi has always been to try and weaken and take down as many of these laws as possible," noted Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank that proposes policy compromises on major issues.
To NRA officials, its efforts are all in defense of constitutional rights intended to preserve personal freedom against any kind of government encroachment, especially laws they say will hinder and harass gun owners.
"If you aren't free to protect yourself -- when government puts its thumb on that freedom -- then you aren't free at all,'' the group's CEO and executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said last month.
The NRA exerts its political clout through a rating system that identifies friends and foes of its positions in Congress, as well as substantial contributions to political campaigns it favors or opponents of candidates it dislikes.
On the other side, President Barack Obama has been waging a public pressure campaign for tougher gun laws, an effort he continued Wednesday in Colorado, the site of two of the nation's most notorious mass shootings.
Legislators in the state, where guns and hunting are popular, recently passed stricter firearms laws similar to what Obama seeks at the federal level.
"There doesn't have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights," Obama said, calling Colorado a model for that kind of solution.
Obama didn't refer to the NRA by name, but he noted that opponents of tougher gun laws were "well-organized" and "well-connected." He called for an honest debate, saying "we've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust."
The president will make a similar appearance on Monday in Connecticut, less than four months after the Newtown attack by a lone gunman firing a semi-automatic rifle that would be prohibited under legislation under consideration in the U.S. Senate.
Polls show the American public backs the president's position. A new survey Wednesday by MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and Marist College found that 60% of respondents want stricter laws governing the sale of firearms.
In particular, it showed 87% of respondents support expanded background checks, with strong backing from Democrats, independents and Republicans.
Obama complained in his speech that Senate opponents who are certain to filibuster any legislation will do "everything they can to avoid even allowing a vote on a proposal the overwhelming majority of the American people support."
"They're saying your opinion doesn't matter," Obama said.
It remained unclear whether a package of new gun laws recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee can overcome a certain filibuster by Senate Republicans that would block it from debate and a floor vote.
The package includes expanding background checks to all firearms sales, tougher laws against gun trafficking and straw purchases, and studying ways to improve school safety.
A fourth proposal that would reinstate a ban on semi-automatic firearms modeled after military assault rifles already has been dropped due to opposition by the NRA, all Republicans and some Democrats, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promises a floor vote on it as an amendment.
Background checks opposed
Now the push for expanded background checks also could fall under assault from the NRA, which once backed the change. The proposal would add most private firearms sales to the current system in which licensed gun sellers check if a potential buyer has a criminal record or other prohibiting factor.
The NRA contends record-keeping as part of an expanded background check system would serve as the first step toward a national gun registry that it considers a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
It also says the change would fail to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms while imposing new burdens on law-abiding gun owners by including private weapons sales at gun shows and between friends in the background check system, from which they are currently exempt.
"This idea of private individuals transferring their weapons and having to go through a background check makes no sense," conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. Instead, Graham and the NRA advocate adding more information on people who are mentally ill to the existing system to prevent them from obtaining firearms.
Supporters of tougher gun laws deny that expanded background checks would lead to a national gun registry, and they argue that the current law's exemption of private sales amounts to a loophole for straw purchasers obtaining guns for others ineligible to buy them on their own, including the mentally ill.