The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the biggest and best-known of the gun rights groups, but there are other pro-gun players that are spending big money to influence U.S. politics.
The NRA is well-known for doling out huge amounts on pro-gun candidates and for issuing ratings for candidates, some of whom are eager to score highly. In 2014, the NRA spent $27,998,636 supporting or opposing federal candidates, compared to $7,679,040 spent by the biggest gun control group, Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, which was founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords.
But there are other pro-gun rights groups that spend significant amounts. Gun Owners of America donated $108,894 to candidates during the 2014 election cycle, all of it to Republicans, and spent $161,023 in independent expenditures. One of their ads, titled “Obama Wants UN Noose Around Necks of Gun Owners,” urges viewers to call their congressman and tell them to vote against the UN small arms treaty, describing the delegates as “Obama’s global gun grabbers.”
The group proudly quotes former Texas lawmaker Ron Paul, who describes them as “the only no compromise gun lobby” on their website. It’s been suggested that Gun Owners of America and groups like it push the NRA further to the right on some issues:
Many lawmakers and gun safety advocates believe Gun Owners of America’s rising profile and heavy membership drive has led the N.R.A. to take a more aggressive stance against measures it once supported, like an expansion of background checks to include private gun sales.
This same tension pervades the NRA’s relationship with another smaller and more extreme gun rights group, the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), who also say they “believe in absolutely 100% no compromise.” NAGR actually criticizes the NRA and some of the candidates it has supported on their website:
The National Association for Gun Rights and the NRA are both gun rights organizations, but the similarities end there. NAGR has grown in recent years because hundreds of thousands of gun rights activists across the country are tired of the “inside the beltway” institutional gun lobby.
The NAGR and the NRA take very different approaches to influence, too. Despite being much, much smaller (NAGR’s revenue was about $7 million in 2013, compared to $256 million for the NRA, according to IRS 990s), NAGR spends more on lobbying than the NRA: It doled out $3,080,000 in 2014 and $6,760,000 in 2013, compared to $3,360,000 and $3,410,000 for the NRA. Of course, 2013 was the year that a background checks law failed to pass the Senate; it was also the year NAGR added its first federal lobbyist. The NAGR makes very few independent expenditures on elections — just $133,969 in 2014, compared to $27,048,581 by the NRA and its related arms. The comparatively large amount the NAGR spends on lobbying would seem to undermine their criticism of the NRA as an “‘inside the beltway’ institutional gun lobby.”
These smaller pro-gun groups show that influence isn’t just about how much money an organization spends. Influence can also work through rallying a committed core of supporters to vote out those who don’t share their views without compromise — but it certainly doesn’t hurt to spend millions on lobbying, too.