Calls for new gun control laws have increased following two recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. While congressional Republicans mainly remain allied with the gun lobby against such measures, Democrats are nearly universally clamoring for the passage of new laws. However, one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress is simultaneously maintaining a tie to a top firearms industry lobbying group, helping to bolster its image among the nation’s elites.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is currently the honorary chairman of the Jefferson Islands Club, an invitation-only social club that was founded in the 1930s by Democratic senators with charter members including Franklin D. Roosevelt and the executives of major corporations like Chase National Bank and General Electric. The club owns Saint Catherine Island, a 50-acre island in the lower Potomac River and has a mission “to support a Club House with suitable surroundings and comforts where members may assemble, discuss and promote Jeffersonian philosophies.” The island, which features a nine-bedroom mid-century retreat, is open for its members from April to December and hosts several annual events, including a spring oyster and wild game reception, and a mid- to late-July crab feast. The club’s skeet shooting range is open during all of its events and it maintains several duck-hunting blinds.
New members may apply only upon the endorsement of three members in good standing, and the club does not publicly disclose its membership list. A 1994 article by the Washington Post said the club’s membership was composed of lawyers, lobbyists, and trade association executives.
Since at least 2017, the National Sports Shooting Foundation (NSSF) has been one of just two or three annual Jefferson sponsors, the club’s highest sponsorship level. The NSSF is the biggest gun rights federal lobbying spender in the country, and its board members include representatives of gun companies such as Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Glock, and Daniel Defense, the maker of the AR 15-style rifle that was used by the mass shooter in Uvalde. The NSSF donates $10,000 to the club annually, according to its tax filings.
The NSSF does not simply support and protect sport shooting, as its name implies. It pressures Congress on a host of gun policy issues that are vital to the profits of its member companies, such as opposing enhanced regulations of online gun sales and closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows private individuals to sell guns without running background checks on their buyers. The NSSF opposes states requiring gun purchasers to buy government permits and proposals to ban high-capacity magazines. The organization also works to reduce the public perception that AR-15 style rifles, such as those that have often been used in mass shootings, are “assault weapons” that should be banned along with machine guns. The group argues that the semi-automatic AR-15 style rifles are being mischaracterized as assault weapons simply because they look like military firearms.
The NSSF spends about $5 million on federal lobbying per year, and its PAC makes about $500,000 in federal campaign contributions each election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.
Hoyer co-sponsors the most popular Democratic gun control bills, including the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021 and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021. House Democrats have scheduled a Judiciary Committee markup on Thursday for the Protecting Our Kids Act, a new bill from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that is a combination of several gun control proposals that would raise the minimum firearm purchasing age from 18 to 21 and ban the sale of bump stocks, which make it easier to rapidly shoot semi-automatic rifles.
Hoyer’s office and the NSSF did not respond to a request for comment.