A protester holds a sign that reads, ‘NRA Stop Killing Our Kids’, outside the court-room where Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was having a bond hearing.
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.
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.
Record election spending
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”.
Direct contributions and ‘outside spending’
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.
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.
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.
Cruz received $11,900 directly from the NRA. But the organization spent $65,000 supporting Cruz during his 2012 Senate race.