May 2022, Open Secrets
Our gun-data spreadsheet now includes spending on state- and federal-level lobbying; state and federal contributions from gun control groups, gun rights groups, and gun manufacturers; contributions to members of Congress; and current NRA data.
Gun violence is a fact of life in the United States and mass shootings continue to occur with frightening regularity.
Mass shootings are often quickly politicized as lawmakers and members of the public alike grapple with how to address senseless gun violence.
Less than two weeks after a May 10 shooting left 10 people in the Tops Friendly Supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. dead and others injured, 19 children and two adults were killed in an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Between the two mass casualty events, another shooting left one dead and multiple injuries at a church in a Taiwanese church in California. The California and New York shootings are being investigated as hate crimes.
Deadly shootings across the country shock the conscience and spur debate — in communities and in Congress.
In April 2019, a shooting at a synagogue in the town of Poway in Southern California killed one and injured three in what officials deem a hate crime. The Poway synagogue shooting came exactly six months after a man spouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire on worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in an attack that left 11 dead. It was described by the Anti-Defamation League as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
The House passed H.R. 8, a bipartisan background check bill, weeks before the shooting. But the Senate has failed to vote on the bill for over three years. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to bring the bill to the floor in March 2022, but the vote has not yet been called and no Senate Republicans are expected to support it.
We’ve been here before
The deadliest mass shooting in modern American history occurred in Oct. 2017 at a Las Vegas music festival, resulting in the deaths of 58 concertgoers and injuring hundreds more.
Only 16 months before that, a gunman armed with a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle murdered 49 people and injured 58 at an Orlando nightclub in what was then the country’s worst mass shooting.The horrific attack in Orlando came less than six months after a man and a woman opened fire at a San Bernardino, Calif., social services center, killing 14 and injuring 22.
Despite the outpouring of grief and sympathy that followed the San Bernardino incident on Dec. 2, 2015, the very next day the Senate rejected a bill to tighten background check requirements on would-be gun buyers — just as it did in 2013, shortly after a lone gunman killed six adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The issue of how to strike a balance between gun rights and public safety has been a political hot potato for years, and one that Congress has dealt with gingerly, if at all.
TABLE: Gun rights vs. gun control lobbying, 1998-2022
|Year||Gun Control||Gun Rights||Gun Manufacturing|
|Based on data as of May 26, 2022.|
One small gun control measure undertaken by the Trump administration was the banning of bump stocks, a tool that allows semi-automatic rifles to fire as fast as automatics, after the Las Vegas shooting. The ban, which took effect in March, requires existing bump stocks to be turned in to the government or destroyed.
Former president Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to protect Second Amendment rights and often warns gun owners that their Second Amendment rights are “under assault.” In an April speech to NRA members, Trump announced he will not ratify America’s participation in the international Arms Trade Treaty, which would provide some international oversight on arms sales.
In opposition to the Republicans, the Democratic-controlled House has made passing gun control legislation a priority. So far, the House passed two measures with some bipartisan support that strengthen and expand the background check process. The House also passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, opposed by the NRA because of the bill’s measure that seeks to prevent domestic abusers from obtaining guns.
In June 2016, Democrats mounted a successful filibuster that forced Senate Republicans to vote on four gun control proposals — none of which passed.
A .44 caliber political issue
The last major piece of gun control legislation to make it into law was the assault weapons ban, passed in 1994 as part of a larger crime-related bill approved by Congress and signed by then-President Bill Clinton. But the ban, which applied to the manufacture of 19 specific models of semi-automatic firearms and other guns with similar features, expired in 2004, and repeated attempts to renew it failed.
81% of Americans
told Pew Research Center in 2021 that they support expanding background checks to include private firearm sales and purchases at gun shows, including a majority of Republican respondents. Preventing individuals with mental illnesses from purchasing guns is also supported by the vast majority of people on both sides of the political spectrum.
Some Democrats thought their support for the assault weapons ban cost them control of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections. Whether or not that’s true, there’s little question that the politics of gun ownership have swung to the right. Republicans largely oppose gun control, and Democrats are split, with some lawmakers cautious about going against the views of more conservative constituencies, especially in rural districts.
TABLE: Top 20 recipients of funds from gun rights interests among members of Congress, 1989-2022*
|Member||Party||Office||Total from Gun Control||Outside Spending Gun Control Support||Outside Spending Gun Rights Opposed|
|James M Inhofe||R||OKS2||$139,835||$861||$15,446|
|*Career figures. Last two columns refer to outside spending. 2022 cycle based on data as of May 26, 2022. For more information on how we calculate industry totals visit our methodology page|
Gun control versus gun rights was a major issue of the 2020 presidential election. One Democratic candidate, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) made gun control the central issue he ran on. The necessity of more gun control legislation was essentially standard among all Democratic candidates, several of whom own guns.
Despite highly publicized mass shootings, no gun control measures, with the exception of the bump stock ban, have made it into law.
That includes the so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment to require background checks in all commercial gun sales, including those at gun shows — the closest attempt in recent history to reform gun laws. The measure first came to a vote in April 2013, four months after the Newtown shooting. It failed, getting only 54 of the 60 votes it needed to overcome a filibuster.
OpenSecrets found that nearly all of the 46 senators who voted against the amendment had accepted significant campaign contributions from the political action committees of gun rights groups. There were exceptions to the rule, notably the measure’s sponsors, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). But in general, the correlation was a close one.
No senators who were in office for the 2013 vote changed their position when the provision came up again after the San Bernardino killings in 2015. And the second time around, only 48 votes of support for expanding background checks could be found. Another bill put to a vote that day sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — would have prohibited individuals on the federal government’s terrorist watchlist from buying guns. It was rejected as well.
The lack of movement on gun legislation runs counter to public opinion, which reveals a consistent desire for stricter laws. The Pew Research Center found in 2018 that 89% of Americans, including a majority of Republican respondents, support preventing people with a history of mental illness from obtaining guns. A large majority, 67%, including a majority of Republicans, also support banning assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines.
Guns and money
There’s no denying that much of the strength of the leading gun rights organization, the National Rifle Association (NRA), comes from its broad and passionate membership base and its mastery of grassroots politics.
But if lawmakers seem to tiptoe around gun issues, that could be in part because the NRA and other gun rights groups are loaded for bear with a seemingly limitless stash of cash ammunition.
Gun rights interests gave more than $50.5 million to federal candidates, parties and outside spending groups from 1989 through the first quarter of 2022, with 90% of the funds contributed to candidates and parties going to Republicans. The NRA is consistently the top contributing organization among gun rights groups.
During the 2018 midterm elections, gun control groups outspent the NRA for the first time by a $2.6 million margin. But gun control groups’ total $23.5 million in 2020 election spending was dwarfed by the NRA’s spending that cycle, and gun control organizations are outpacing gun rights groups in outside spending ahead of the 2022 midterms.
The NRA spent $29.1 million in 2020 federal elections, most of that to support Trump in the final months of the cycle, with around $19.5 million of that spending bankrolled by its newly created NRA Victory Fund super PAC and $9 million by its traditional PAC.
Just four years earlier, the group spent $54.4 million during the 2016 election cycle, breaking the group’s prior spending records. Of that, $31.2 million went to supporting Trump’s first presidential campaign. Most of the NRA’s 2016 spending was routed through its main 501(c)(4) “dark money” group, which does not disclose its donors.
During the 2018 election cycle, the NRA made around $9.4 million in outside expenditures, a significant decrease from the $27 million spent during the 2014 midterm election cycle and a massive drop from its 2016 presidential election spending.Gun control interests, by comparison, have generally been a blip on the radar screen. They’ve emerged as a greater political force in recent cycles, however.
Those interests gave $26.3 million to candidates and party committees from 1989 through the first quarter of 2022, with nearly all of that going to Democrats.
Despite being dwarfed by gun rights lobbying and campaign contributions, gun control groups have increased outside spending since the 2018 election cycle. Gun control advocates poured $16.6 million into outside spending in 2020 compared to just $14,000 in 2016.
TABLE: Top 20 recipients of funds from gun control interests among members of Congress, 1989-2022*
|Member||Party||Office||Total from Gun Control||Outside Spending Gun Control Support||Outside Spending Gun Rights Opposed|
|Charles E Schumer||D||NYS2||$89,281||$0||$0|
|*Career figures. Last two columns refer to outside spending. 2022 figures based on data as of May 26, 2022. For more information on how we calculate industry totals visit our methodology page|
Most of the gun control movement’s political clout comes from two well-connected organizations. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety super PAC is the leading outside spender supporting gun control. The super PAC spent $3.6 million of the total $4.4 million spent by gun control groups through May in the 2022 cycle. Independence USA PAC, a super PAC backed by Bloomberg, says it supports a variety of causes including stricter gun laws. After spending a whopping $56.5 million on the 2020 election, mostly supporting President Joe Biden, the super PAC has poured over $1 million into 2022 midterms as of May. It spent around $37.5 million on independent expenditures during the 2018 midterms. The money supports federal candidates who favor gun control and attacks those who do not..
Another major gun control lobby spender is Giffords, an organization founded by gun violence victim and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, current U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is running for re-election in Arizona in the 2022 midterms. Giffords spent about $500,000 on lobbying in 2021. The group’s hybrid PAC spent more than $11 million during the 2020 election cycle and spent about $6.2 million during the 2022 election cycle as of May figures from OpenSecrets.
Powerful gun rights groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Gun Owners of America have poured millions into lobbying, campaign contributions and outside spending to advocate for the right to bear arms. At least 81.4 million Americans owned guns in 2021.
Gun rights groups are still powerful in the realm of lobbying, consistently spending more money to influence policy than gun control organizations. Gun rights groups spent a record $15.8 million on lobbying in 2021 and have invested $190 million in lobbying efforts since 1998.
Gun rights advocates spent more than $114 million of that total since 2013. Lobbying by gun rights advocates nearly tripled in 2013 after a gunman murdered 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012. The following year was the closest the Senate has come in the last decade to passing meaningful gun control legislation.
Groups advocating for gun control spent a record $2.9 million in 2021. But gun control advocates, spearheaded Giffords and Everytown for Gun Safety, spent just $30 million on lobbying from 1998 through the start of 2022 – about six times less than gun rights groups spent over the same period.
– Taylor Giorno, Anna Massoglia, Raymond Arke, Geoff West (May 2022)