On January 7, a potential healthcare reform repeal and the unemployment rate were at the top of the national political agenda. But the January 8 shooting rampage that killed 6 and wounded 13, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, brought the topic of gun control to forefront of the national consciousness. Now, in the aftermath, Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Republican Rep. Peter King, both of New York, have both proposed legislation to tighten gun-control laws. McCarthy's bill, introduced on Monday, would ban high-capacity gun magazines, like the one that accused shooter Jared Loughner used in his Tucson rampage. King, who has not yet formally introduced his bill, wants to ban the possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a federal official. But if lobbying and campaign finance figures are any indicator, these efforts may face an uphill battle. [See which members of Congress get the most from gun rights groups.]
Campaign finance and lobbying data shows that gun rights advocates wield far more fiscal power than gun control advocates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money in politics, gun rights groups contributed $2.1 million to 21 candidates in the 2010 election cycle; 79 percent of this money went to Republican campaigns. Gun control organizations, meanwhile, contributed only $5,300 to seven candidates, all of them Democrats. The same disparity holds for lobbying: eight groups, employing 49 lobbyists, lobbied for gun rights in 2010, spending a total of $3.9 million. Gun rights lobbying was led by the National Rifle Association, with $2 million in lobbying spending. Meanwhile, four groups employing nine lobbyists pushed for gun control in 2010, spending $150,000.
John Velleco, Director of Federal Affairs for gun rights organization Gun Owners of America, characterizes this overwhelming monetary advantage as a natural consequence of strong public support for second-amendment rights. "This is a very telling point. Why don't [gun control groups] have the support? Because the support's not there for that side." He adds, "American people overwhelmingly support, at least at some level, gun rights." Public opinion figures from Gallup indicate that, while support for greater second-amendment rights is perhaps not "overwhelming," support for stricter gun laws has dropped steadily since 1990, from 78 percent then to 44 percent now. Support for maintaining current laws or making them less strict has likewise increased, from 19 to 54 percent, over the same period. [See who gets the most from gun control groups.]
Dennis Henigan, the Vice President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says that such polling is too general to accurately depict public opinion. He says that when asked specifically about such proposals as closing the so-called gun show loophole and barring people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns, Americans lend such policies "overwhelming support." A poll released earlier this week by gun-control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns shows that 89 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of gun owners, support background checks for all sales at gun shows, and that 90 percent of Americans and gun owners alike support fixing gaps in background check databases.
While public opinion may waver from poll to poll, members of gun-rights organizations consistently show their strong support in the form of dollars. The PAC affiliated with the NRA--one of the most powerful interest groups in the country, with four million members--is largely supported by small individual contributions. Indeed, of the group's $15.4 million receipts during the 2010 election cycle, $14.2 million came in the form of contributions of $200 or less, according to FEC data. Velleco says that the Gun Owners of America is likewise supported chiefly by contributions from its members: "We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 members, and that's where [our monetary support] comes from."
Yet Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, warns against overestimating the gun rights lobby's influence, calling gun rights organizations' apparent fiscal power "a myth," particularly in light of new campaign finance regulations that allow organizations to spend unlimited amounts directly advocating for particular candidates. Horwitz contrasts the NRA with groups like labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose spending efforts helped drive 2010's record campaign spending levels. "[The NRA political budget] is just a drop in the bucket," he says. The NRA's $1.1 million in political contributions in the 2010 elections do not even put the group among the top 100 contributors for the cycle. And the organization's $8.1 million spent on political advertisements and communications in the election put it well behind groups like the Chamber ($32.9 million) and the American Action Network ($26.1 million).