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).
According to Horwitz, social media platforms like Twitter are also allowing gun control groups to counteract the "structural inequality" that gives gun rights groups membership and monetary advantages. Gun rights groups, he says, recruit at gun shows and stores. "There's no place that I can go every weekend and recruit activists," says Horwitz.
Ultimately, both sides are politicking and spending in order to answer one question: what will make Americans safer? For gun control advocates, the answer is restriction. "The only purpose for the existence of [high-capacity magazines] is to be able to shoot as many people as possible as quickly as possible. There is no reason that these devices should be available to the general public," argues a statement from McCarthy's office. For gun-rights proponents, the answer is proliferation: "Criminals will get their hands on whatever they want to get their hands on," says Velleco. "Maybe we need to have more freedom to be able to protect ourselves." Congress is sure to debate the merits of both arguments in the coming weeks.