Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s plan for cracking down on gun violence faces long odds given a Congress that has largely failed to pass gun control legislation for years and receives millions of dollars from gun rights groups every election cycle.
Which is why Clinton – speaking in New Hampshire on Monday after a shooting left 10 people dead at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week – said she would take executive action if necessary to require vendors who sell a significant number of firearms online or atgun shows to run background checks on potential buyers. Only gun stores are currently required to conduct background checks.
Such action would surely come under a barrage of criticism and probably draw lawsuits. But it’s clear that, like it or not, gun control initiatives stand little chance in Congress. Lawmakers fell short of passing an amendment in 2013 – after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. – which would have closed the “gun show loophole.” Almost all of the senators who voted against it had received significant amounts of money from the gun rights industry – far more than the senators who voted to approve the measure, according to aCenter for Responsive Politics analysis.
Both gun control and gun rights organizations pulled out all the stops in favor or opposition to the amendment and other measures that year. Gun rights spent $15 million on lobbying during 2013, a $9 million surge from the previous year. Gun control groups – mostly Michael Bloomberg-backed Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to form Everytown for GunSafety – spent $2.2 million on lobbying that year.
The lobbying outlays of gun rights organizations dipped a bit in 2014, to $12 million, as the threat of tighter regulation receded. Still, that was far more than those interests had spent any other year except the previous one. The sum included $3.36 million shelled out by the National Rifle Association, down slightly from its 2013 total of $3.4 million but more than its fellow Second Amendment enthusiasts such as the National Association for Gun Rights ($3.08 million), the National Shooting Sports Foundation ($3.07 million) and Gun Owners of America ($1.45 million). On the other side, gun control groups spent a sliver of that, $1.9 million, with most of the money coming from Everytown for Gun Safety.
Much of the legislation pending in Congress now could ease the public’s ability to buy or carry firearms. One of the NRA’s lobbying lobbying priorities this year has been the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow a person who carries government-issued identification and has a concealed gun permit in one state to carry a concealed handgun in another state, as long as the person adheres to the other state’s restrictions. There’s a similar measure pending in the Senate. Through mid-year, gun rights groups have spent about $5.7 million making their case in DC. Their opponents have spent less than one-sixth that amount: $868,000.
The partisan divide is clearly drawn in the gun debate. During the 2014 midterm cycle, gun rights groups donated nearly $3.4 million to federal candidates and political parties – 97 percent of which went to Republicans. The biggest donor by quite a bit was the NRA. In comparison, gun control organizations gave out very little directly, instead spending their money on independent expenditures, like the$387,000 laid out by Everytown.
But the NRA left the gun control groups in the dust in the outside spending category as well, reaching deep for $28 million during the 2014 cycle. It spent $11 million urging voters to support Republican candidates and $15 million calling for the defeat of Democrats.
The organization levied more than $2 million each against Michelle Nunn (D-Ga.) and Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), as well as Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) – all of whom lost their Senate election or re-election bids. It spent close to $2 million each in support of now-Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who defeated Hagan, and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who also defeated a Democratic incumbent.
Gun rights groups and their employees have given more than $35 million since 1990 to federal candidates and parties, with 87 percent of recipients being Republicans. About $21 million of that money has come from the NRA. Meanwhile, the gun control industry has donated about $2 million to that same universe of recipients since 1990. Ninety-four percent of them have been Democrats.
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