Anger as some Republicans call for prayers for victims rather than suggesting action on gun control
In the minutes and hours after a teenage gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, politicians began what has become something of a grim ritual following mass shootings: they offered “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families.
The response, as it has in the past, drew fierce criticism from Democrats and supporters of stricter gun control legislation, who view the condolences as woefully inadequate as mass shootings become more frequent and more lethal.
Partisanship and the power of the gun lobby has helped derail several recent attempts in Congress to pass measures that would impose restrictions on the sale of firearms. And on Wednesday, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, Republican congressman who oppose gun control legislation while accepting millions from the gun lobby found themselves in the glare of the public eye.
It’s not (just) about the money. In 2017, the NRA spent at least $4.1m on lobbying – more than the $3.1m it spent in all of 2016. But for comparison, the dairy industry has spent $4.4m in the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The National Association of Realtors, one of the biggest spenders, has paid out $32.2m lobbying on housing issues.
The NRA has plenty of cash to spend. It bet big on the 2016 US elections, pouring $14.4m into supporting 44 candidates who won and $34.4m opposing 19 candidates who lost, according to CRP.
But “the real source of its power, I believe, comes from voters,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA professor of constitutional law.
The 145-year-old organization claims 5 million active members, that number is disputed, but whatever its actual size, membership is a powerful tool, said Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland.
“They have a very powerful ability to mobilize a grassroots support and to engage in politics when most Americans can barely be bothered to vote,” he said. “And because so few Americans do those things, if you get a bunch of people in a locality who are all prepared to go out to a meeting they can have a big effect.” Read more
On Wednesday, Bess Kalb, a writer for the late night television show Jimmy Kimmel Live! responded to lawmakers offering prayers by tweeting the amount of contributions they received from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The New York Daily News joined the criticism, tweeting politicians’ campaign donations from gun rights groups and their grade from the NRA.
The NRA is a powerful force in Washington, claiming a grassroots membership of nearly 5 million Americans. The group is responsible for a lion’s share of contributions from gun lobbyists – and the money has gone disproportionately to Republicans.
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimated that during the 2016 election, the NRA and its affiliates spent a record $54m to secure Republican control of the White House and Congress, including at least $30.3m to help elect Donald Trump.
But experts have caution that the relationship between contributions from pro-gun groups and Congress’ reticence to change the nation’s gun laws is complicated at best. The NRA accounts for just a fraction of the contributions lawmakers receive, and the group doesn’t crack the top 50 in terms of spending to the lobby the federal government.
As students mourned their friends in Parkland, those frustrated by Congressional inaction trained their fire on Republicans who had received money from the NRA and the gun lobby and demanded they do more than offer “thoughts and prayers”.
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan incurred liberal wrath when he told a local radio station:“I think we need to pray, and our hearts go out to these victims. And I think, as public-policy makers, we don’t just knee jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.”
According to the center, Ryan has received $49,650 in direct contributions from the NRA during his nearly two decades in Congress. The figure represents only a fraction of the money spent on the candidate and does not account for “outside spending” that benefits the candidate such as campaign ads and other lobbying efforts.
Among other Republicans who were chastised for offering sentiments include senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Rob Portman of Ohio and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Just spoke to Broward School Superintendent. Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 14, 2018
Though Rubio has only received $4,950 from the NRA, the number vastly underestimates the amount the group has spent on efforts boosting his candidacy. In 2016, the NRA funnelled more than $1m into efforts to re-elect the senator in Florida. And according to an estimate in the New York Times, Rubio ranks among the top 10 beneficiaries of the NRA in the Senate.
Heartbreaking news out of Florida. Jane and I send our prayers to the school, the community, and the victims of this tragedy.
— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) February 14, 2018
Portman has received $29,455 from the NRA during his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, the NRA spent $731,400 in outside money to help Portman win re-election. And the Times tally, which takes into account outside spending over the course of his career, found that Portman also ranks among the top 10 career recipients of NRA funding.
Heidi and my prayers are with the victims and families of those affected by today’s senseless shooting in Florida. As always, we are grateful to the first responders who answered the call for help and quickly apprehended the attacker. https://t.co/gcH1IXwKsX
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) February 14, 2018
Cruz received $11,900 directly from the NRA. But the organization spent $65,000 supporting Cruz during his 2012 Senate race.
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