Gun Control Groups Outspend NRA in Push for Senate Vote on Gun Bill
“The choice facing the Senate could not be clearer: Carry water for the NRA, or stand up for the majority of Americans demanding action to address our gun violence crisis.”
(By Karl Evers-Hillstrom, Center for Responsive Politics) Prominent gun control groups are airing six-figure ad campaigns to pressure Republican Senators to take up gun bills, while the nation’s leading gun rights organization is practically invisible.
In the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in early August, Giffords, run by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), a survivor of gun violence, launched a nearly $750,000 ad campaign urging Republican senators to pass the House’s universal background checks bill. The Michael Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety followed that up with a $1 million ad campaign urging action on background checks and red flag laws.
The two groups targeted Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will decide whether the GOP-held Senate holds a vote on gun control bills when it returns from August recess. Both senators are up for reelection in 2020 and are expected to face well-funded challengers with hefty Democratic party support.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, which opposes the proposals backed by gun control groups, hasn’t countered with an ad campaign of its own. The NRA’s ad spending has come on Facebook, where it spent less than $94,000 over the last 30 days. But these ads aren’t focused on the proposed gun control bills — they are recycled content that ask users to join the NRA.
The discrepancy in ad spending comes as the NRA struggles with unprecedented internal battles and troubling finances. And gun control groups are gaining momentum — during last year’s midterms, they outspent the NRA in FEC-reported outside spending for the first time.
Giffords’ ad campaign, which kicked off on August 6, has hit Gardner the hardest. Of nearly $552,000 in TV ad buys found in OpenSecrets’ political ad database, roughly $490,000 was spent to target Gardner in his home state.
The ad features a Colorado teacher named “Jody” and schoolchilden, just before flashing the phone number to Gardner’s office and urging viewers to tell him to support background checks. The McConnell-focused ad, which airs in several Kentucky cities, also uses the prospect of school shootings to appeal to viewers.
The TV ads from Everytown for Gun Safety, launched Tuesday as part of a $350,000 campaign, similarly target the Colorado and Kentucky senators who happen to be up for election in 2020. Gardner so far hasn’t budged on gun legislation, instead promoting his bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to expand funding for the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, which focuses on violence prevention. McConnell has raised the possibility of a gun bill. The NRA spent $3.9 million to help Gardner win his Senate seat in 2014 and has spent more than $1.4 million backing McConnell.
“The choice facing the Senate could not be clearer: Carry water for the NRA, or stand up for the majority of Americans demanding action to address our gun violence crisis,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement Tuesday.
Both senators have said they would support red flag legislation modeled on a Florida law signed by then-Gov. Scott in 2017 in response to the Parkland mass shooting that left 17 dead.
Because the Giffords and Everytown ads mention candidates but stop short of explicitly advocating for or against their election, they are not required to be disclosed to the FEC outside of the window before elections.
In addition to its TV ads, Everytown bought nearly $321,000 in Facebook ads over the last 30 days targeting a dozen Republican senators and state-level lawmakers. The group held a gun safety forumwith prominent Democratic presidential candidates and its subsidiary Moms Demand Action is staging rallies around the country.
The NRA’s public relations campaign appears to be far less robust. But the group has faced, and defeated, gun control bills before.
In 2013, the group derailed a bill from Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would have expanded background checks to include guns sold on the internet and at gun shows. The two senators recently proposed a similar bill, but it faces steep challenges and has not earned the blessing of McConnell.
Most recently, the NRA attempted to defeat the House Democrats’ bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, citing its new red flag provisions. The bill has not received a vote in the Senate and the act remains expired.
Crucially, the NRA appears to have the ear of Trump — and it has reportedly warned the president that passing gun control legislation would hurt him with his conservative base. McConnell has typically waited on a green light from the president before allowing a vote on high-profile bills.