In the face of near-daily mass shootings, why do policymakers in Washington have so much trouble passing gun-control legislation?
Here's perhaps one reason: Vastly more money flows to American politicians in support of gun rights than those in support of gun control. Just this year, gun-rights activists spent seven times more on lobbying than gun-control groups. Below, we've collected four examples that demonstrate the magnitude and power of gun-rights groups' political spending, in comparison to their opponents. These numbers all come from the Center for Responsive Politics:
1. BOTH SIDES' RECENT OVERALL SPENDING
This year, gun-control groups spent $1.2 million on lobbying. Gun-rights groups spent $8.4 million, which is seven times more.
In the 2016 election cycle so far, gun-rights supporters have given $701,084 to national politicians and political candidates. Gun-control supporters, on the other hand, have given $300. (No, that's not a typo.)
2. BOTH SIDES' SPENDING AFTER SANDY HOOK
As Pacific Standard previously reported, mass shootings rarely budge Americans' opinions on gun rights. The exception was the killing of 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, which prompted a flurry of proposed laws on both sides and temporarily upped public support for gun control by 10 percent. Yet even in the year after Sandy Hook, gun rights outspent gun control in lobbying by a factor of seven: $15.3 million, versus $2.2 million.
3. BOTH SIDES' SPENDING ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
The 2016 presidential race currently dominates American political news. As of October 16, 12 presidential candidates have received $200 or more from gun-rights groups. Five received $10,000 or more:
- Ben Carson ($37,622)
- Ted Cruz ($36,229)
- Rand Paul ($29,547)
- Scott Walker ($11,200)
- Carly Fiorina ($10,500)
Although gun-rights organizations usually focus on Republican politicians, even Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have seen modest campaign contributions from activist groups of $3,100 and $250, respectively.
Meanwhile, the only presidential candidate to have received $200 or more from gun-control groups by October was Clinton, who got $300.
4. BOTH SIDES' NOTORIETY
You likely know the name of America's top gun-rights donor: the National Rifle Association, which put $3.4 million into lobbying in 2014. Do you know the names of the top gun-control groups that pay to lobby? Perhaps not. As the Atlantic previously reported, gun-control groups have had serious branding woes.
The biggest gun-control spender in 2014 was Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which laid out $1.8 million in lobbying. A far second was the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which spent $108,000. (The Brady Campaign, which has been around since 1983, used to spend more on lobbying in years past.)
CHANGES TO COME?
There is one small hint that the funding gap between gun rights and gun control may change in the future: Despite how large that rift is now, it used to be even larger. Between 2005 and 2012, gun-control groups often spent one-twentieth as much as gun-rights groups did on lobbying, or even less. In fact, gun-control groups' ramp-up after Sandy Hook was remarkable, despite being dwarfed by gun-rights' lobbying contributions, and they've kept spending relatively high amounts in the years since, compared to the low period in 2005–12. We'll have to see if they keep it up, and if it makes a difference to American opinion and policy.