Why Isn't Gun Safety More Of An Issue This Cycle?
When Blue America polled issues that would motivate suburban voters to support our progressive candidates around the country, we found gun safety high on every list in every single district. Based on that, two of our mobile billboards, on in NV-04 (North Las Vegas) and one in NY-02 (Long Island's South Shore), are all about gun safety. The DCCC has talked a good game on this but DCCC head Ben Ray Lujan is a quiet backer of gun groups and is one of the few Democrats in the House still taking bribes from gun manufacturers and their lobbyists. The DCCC recruited and is spending millions of dollars to elect NRA allies like Lon Johnson (Blue Dog-MI), Pete Gallego (Blue Dog-TX), Darren Soto (New Dem-FL) and Lou Correa (Blue Dog-CA).
It's good issue for Democrats but because of the Blue Dogs and New Dems who control the party apparatus, it isn't being exploited properly. Corrupted conservaDems like Lujan, Israel, Hoyer, et al don't want to embarrass the few Democrats who still vote with the GOP and the NRA, so they soft peddle an issue they should be emphasizing.
The NRA and associated groups are spending tens of millions of dollars this cycle, as this report from Citizens For Responsibility And Ethics In Washington (CREW) makes clear-- and not always legally.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is well known for using its deep pockets and passionate membership to fight off efforts at gun control, even in the wake of mass shootings. But it’s not the only gun organization spending big money to influence gun policy.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry’s trade association, is taking aim at the 2016 election. The group, which represents gun manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, is investing heavily in its #GunVote voter mobilization campaign, all with an eye towards mobilizing gun owners to elect pro-gun candidates while defeating advocates of gun control.
The NSSF’s 2016 program is being directly underwritten by the industry. At least nine firearms manufacturers and one retailer have officially contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the #GunVote campaign in the 2016 election cycle, committing more than $1.35 million so far.
The president of one of the contributing companies, Hornady Manufacturing, suggested his company was supporting the effort specifically to target Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “For the first time in our nation’s history, we have a Presidential candidate who is openly running against the lawful commerce in firearms, which is a prerequisite to our ability to exercise our Second Amendment rights,” said Stephen Hornady in the NSSF’s press release about his company’s $250,000 contribution.
Smith & Wesson made the largest contribution to the #GunVote campaign, giving $500,000 on August 3rd. The company, which is headquartered in Springfield, MA, said it donated the money in response to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s move to ban the sale of certain assault rifles to civilians. Several gun and gun accessory manufacturers have made six-figure donations to the campaign: Connecticut firearms manufacturer O.F. Mossberg & Sons contributed $150,000 and SIG SAUER contributed $100,000, as did the Beretta Holding Group, Sturm, Ruger & Company, and SilencerCo. Pistol maker Taurus contributed $50,000 while riflescope manufacturer Leupold & Stevens became an Ambassador’s Club level donor, though the company did not reveal the dollar amount of its contribution. Outdoor retailer Gander Mountain has also announced its support for the voter mobilization effort, saying it made “a significant contribution” to the campaign and will feature #GunVote materials in its stores.
NSSF’s #GunVote campaign has focused on former Secretary of State Clinton all year, casting her positions on guns negatively while emphasizing the need for gun owners to vote in November. For instance, in January 2016, the NSSF released a video highlighting Sec. Clinton’s statement that “the Supreme Court is wrong on the 2nd Amendment” and the likelihood that the next president will appoint several Supreme Court justices. After showing footage of Sec. Clinton, the clip declares, “We need a President and Senate who will defend the 2nd Amendment.” Three days later, the NSSF released a similar video consisting of footage of Sec. Clinton praising the idea of appointing President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court, closing with the same message about the White House and the Senate.
In August, #GunVote posted a video on its Facebook page featuring both President Obama’s and Sec. Clinton’s faces juxtaposed with the phrase, “Anti-gun politicians are taking aim at your rights” before encouraging voters to visit gunvote.org to learn more about how to protect gun rights. The video is just one in a series claiming that politicians are “coming after your gun rights” and “want you to sit out of the election.” President Obama and Sec. Clinton are regularly invoked in the videos, which urge viewers to get to the polls to protect gun rights.
Before November, the organization may attempt to intervene more directly in the election. In October 2014, the NSSF broadcast TV and radio ads, promoted as part of the #GunVote campaign, attacking Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). The organization reported spending more than $240,000 on independent expenditures to Connecticut’s campaign finance authorities, but claimed the money was for “issue advocacy voter education” that “neither supports nor opposes a candidate,” even though the TV ad argued that “on Election Day all citizens” should “reject Dannel Malloy’s politics of divisiveness.” It’s unknown how much the NSSF spent on its Colorado ad, which closed by saying, “Maybe it’s time for John Hickenlooper to hit the road.” A spokesman said the ad aired on cable TV in the state, but the NSSF did not report making any independent expenditures or electioneering communications to Colorado’s Secretary of State.
Despite these electorally-focused ad campaigns, the NSSF also did not disclose any political expenditures on its 2014 tax return. In 2014, the NSSF also gave $40,450 to the Republican Governors Association and $15,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, contributions to political organization that were also not disclosed on the group’s 2014 tax forms.
As a section 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization, the NSSF can legally spend money to influence elections, but politics cannot be the group’s primary purpose and it is required to report to the IRS how much it spends on political activity. The organization is not required to disclose its donors and membership.
...Lobbying records indicate that the NSSF has spent more than a million dollars each year since 2001 to ward off gun control legislation in Congress, and its lobbying spending has been roughly on par with that of the NRA in recent years. This year so far, the NSSF has reported spending $1.64 million on lobbying. Most recently the group has reported lobbying on a vast number of bills, including the Lawful Purpose and Self Defense Act (HR 2710), the Firearms Manufacturers and Dealers Protection Act (HR 1413/S 477), and many others.
With gun issues taking center stage in 2016, the NSSF is poised to spend more than ever to influence the outcome of the election. If the record–breaking contributions to #GunVote are any indication, the gun-based businesses that make up the group’s membership appear ready to spend as much as necessary to beat pro-gun control candidates at the ballot box.
As Martin Kaste reported for NPR last week, "gun control has been a minor theme of this year's presidential election, as Hillary Clinton promises to close 'loopholes' in the background checks for gun purchasers, and Donald Trump pledges 'unwavering support' for the Second Amendment." Gun groups and gun safety groups are waging their big battles on a state-level, including on ballot initiatives.
Washington is a prime example. Like many western states, it has a tradition of permissive gun laws; there's no minimum waiting period to buy a gun, and the state doesn't even require safety training for people who carry concealed firearms. In 2013, legislation to require criminal background checks for most gun sales died in the state House of Representatives. So in 2014, activists went around the legislature, putting background checks on the state ballot. It passed by a wide margin.The NRA is spending a lot on federal elections as usual. Their biggest independent expenditures were in the presidential race-- $7,447,391 smearing Hillary and $1,831,706 bolstering Trump. The biggest Senate races for them have been North Carolina ($3,638,558 for Burr), Missouri ($2,119,387 for Blunt), Ohio ($1,794,551 for Portman), Nevada ($688,138 for Heck) and Indiana ($648,742 for Young). In House races they've handed out over 700,000 dollars to gun-nuts, mostly to Republicans, of course, but to these Democrats as well:
This year, similar background check laws are on the ballot in Nevada and Maine; in California, there's a ballot measure to require background checks for buyers of ammunition.
In Washington state, meanwhile, gun control activists are building on their success with another ballot initiative. This one gives courts the ability to take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others. It's very well-funded, both by local tech billionaires, as well as Everytown for Gun Safety, the national gun control group founded by Michael Bloomberg.
...Pro-gun groups have put money into opposing the ballot initiatives in Maine, Nevada and California, but they're not keeping pace with gun control groups. That may be in part because of their strategic decision to spend heavily on behalf of Donald Trump.
The NRA still spends millions-- but Stepleton says it's putting that money more into lobbying and independent expenditures for specific candidates. That leaves an opening for the gun control groups, as they focus on ballot initiatives.
"This is really taking a page from the marriage equality playbook," says Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, one of the groups under the Everytown for Gun Safety umbrella. She compares their strategy to the decision made by activists for same sex marriage, after they faced defeats in Congress in the 1990s.
"[They said,] 'We're going to pivot, and go to the states and companies, and we're going to get them to put laws and policies in place that point Congress and the Supreme Court in the direction that this nation is headed in,'" Watts says. "And that's exactly what we have done."
Cheryl Stumbo is a gun control activist in Washington, who survived the mass shooting at Seattle's Jewish Federation in 2006. She's been heavily involved in the ballot initiatives, and she frames the strategy as one of picking the right battles.
"What can we do that's going to save the most number of lives right now, and what can we win," she says. "So that we can keep going and create momentum."
• Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)The dozen biggest contributions were all the right-wing Republicans who have proven themselves to be 100% NRA tools and anti-gun safety extremists:
• Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
• Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
• Tim Walz (MN)
• Barbara Comstock (R-VA)- $17,800This chart from Open Secrets shows the biggest recipients of gun nut money across Congress for this cycle, not just the NRA but all the other gun manufacturing lobbyist groups as well. This is just direct money, to the candidates and their PACs, not independent expenditures.
• John Katko (R-NY)- $17,300
• Will Hurd (R-TX)- $14,850
• Bruce Poliquin (R-ME)- $14,850
• Frank Guinta (R-NH)- $12,850
• Lee Zeldin (R-NY)- $12,350
• John Faso (R-NY)- $10,900
• Donald Bacon (R-NE)- $9,900
• Mike Coffman (R-CO)- $9,900
• Mike Gallagher (R-WI)- $9,900
• Rod Blum (R-IA)- $7,450
• Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)- $7,450
Nevada's foremost election expert, Jon Ralston predicted a Blue Wave in the Silver State this morning. He wrote that it will give victories to Hillary (46-40%), Cortez Masto (46-43%), Rosen (48-45%) and that the state legislature will be taken over by the Democrats. And the biggest victory of all? The most progressive candidate of all, of course, Ruben Kihuen, who, Ralston predicts, will beat Cresent Hardy 51-47%. "The early vote has given Kihuen an insurmountable lead." Our mobile billboard is driving around North Las Vegas and environs right through Tuesday evening ad will be at the Bernie rally in Las Vegas this afternoon. I hope it's helped clarify one really important issue the DCCC has over-looked. If you click the images you'll have an easier time reading them.