Within just 35 days the country has seen two of the most deadly shootings in modern U.S. history, with 58 people dead in Las Vegas and a further 26 killed just five weeks later in a Texas church. Unlike Vegas however, the recent atrocity in Texas has in a tragic fashion ignited both sides of the pro and anti-gun lobby in the U.S. Whilst advocacy groups promoting greater gun controls have seen the tragedy to exemplify the need for greater controls and vetting, the NRA and pro-gun lobby found a voice in by-stander Stephen Willeford, the NRA member who used his training to conceal himself and fire shots back at the rampaging gunman. Speaking on the NRA’s online television network, the Conservative talk show host Grant Stinchfield illustrated the NRA’s take on events, claiming that ‘Sutherland Springs needed a brave, calm gun owner, an NRA instructor to stop the rampage of a deranged monster’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly however, recent events have not only poured fuel on the overall ‘gun debate’ across the United States, but so too the influence of the NRA and pro-gun lobby. In 2016 the NRA spent big, a massive $419 million, increasing its 2015 total by over $100 million. Critics of the NRA have particularly taken issue at the groups $140 million spending on legislative programs and public affairs, a massive $75 million increase, and representing what critics see as the growing lobbying efforts and campaign contributions which have come to represent a key part of the NRA’s political power. Open Secrets reported the electoral impact of the NRA’s campaign contributions, which focused the group’s resources on a select few tight races, spending big in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.
As the President faces pressure in the wake of Las Vegas and Texas, his own ties with the NRA have come under spotlight. Trump received the earliest ever endorsement for a Republican presidential contender, and proudly accepted the organization’s support when he spoke to the NRA convention in Kentucky, stating in his speech that ‘the second amendment is under threat like never before’. The NRA’s backing of Trump has gone far beyond convention speeches; in 2016 the group spent a huge $30.3 million supporting the President’s campaign, over half of the $12.5 million spent previously on Romney’s 2012 campaign. Spending over $1 million to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, it’s clear that beyond Congress and the President, the NRA has also firmly set its sights on influence in the courts, as McConnell leads a huge push to fill the record-breaking number of federal court vacancies. Endorsing nominees who ‘stand for gun rights’, the group clearly sees pro-gun judges as key to the long-term protection of gun rights. Despite clear success in candidate endorsement, there has been little tangible return on investment so far this year, with a failure to push votes on a measure to deregulate gun silencers, and a spate bill to loosen concealed carry permit requirements. Whilst at first sight it may appear the group faces a defensive lobbying campaign in the months’ to come, the NRA is clearly fighting on the offensive in its efforts to establish long term support across the nation’s power bases.