This is hard evidence that the NRA has adopted a much lower profile in this year’s midterms. And the reason, people say, is that there has been a major shift in the dynamics of the gun debate which is taking place in the United States.
Although the stakes this year are extremely high, with control of Congress hanging in the balance, the NRA has chosen to reduce its role in funding pro-gun candidates.
The group spent $54 million on both presidential and congressional races in 2016 and this year’s total is several times smaller than that.
On the other hand, spending in support of tougher gun laws has been surging this year.
A group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Everytown for Gun Safety, has given $30 million this year. And they are continuing to contribute more money in some of the most competitive races in the closing days of the campaign.
Another political action committee to support tougher gun laws was organized by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords. This group so far has spent $5 million to further its cause.
This may be a very important moment in American election history: For the first time the NRA is being outspent by gun control groups fighting against the NRA’s priorities.
What this shows is that there is a very different political landscape when it comes to gun control. It seems like everything changed after the February massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead.
And Saturday’s deadly shooting that killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue has only strengthened the resolve of the anti-gun forces.
Jim Kessler from the think tank the Third Way had this to say about the current environment:
“The politics of guns has changed. The groups supporting more gun safety restrictions are smarter than in the past and have more resources, both in terms of people and money, than in the past.”
One important area where the debate has changed is in swing congressional districts. Voters in many affluent suburban districts have changed their attitudes and are open to the messages from Democratic candidates who are now proposing tough gun legislation.
And Democrats have grown more bold since they know they have the support of most people. Polls show that the majority of Americans now support tightening of some gun laws.
Bloomberg’s and Giffords’ groups have been running anti-gun ads in competitive congressional districts in Texas, Virginia, Kansas and other states. These districts are held by Republicans but many are likely to swing to Democrats this year.
The anti-gun groups are picking their spots where they think spending can do the most good and have the greatest impact on Tuesday’s elections.
After the Pittsburgh shooting Bloomberg’s group bought $700,000 in advertisements in a suburban Denver district where there is a vulnerable Republican. They also have spent nearly $4 million in the Atlanta area to support Democrat Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate whose son was shot and killed in 2012.
Bloomberg may be influenced by the fact that he is considering running for president as a Democrat in 2020. Regardless, he has been very vocal and has pledged to keep up the pressure on members of Congress when they begin a new session in January.
In an interview with The Associated Press the former New York City mayor (whose net worth exceeds $50 billion) said:
“I’ve put an awful lot of my money and an awful lot of my time into this. I’m not going to forget it. I’m not going to walk away.”
“The nice thing about the House, it may be a stupidly designed system, but if they don’t do what they said they were going to do, you get another crack at deciding to support them or somebody else two years from now.”
Bloomberg seems extremely serious, and he has the money to back up his words. It appears that the gun control debate — and the political dynamics of gun control — have truly changed this year. And it is possible that this change will last a very long time and continue to help Democratic candidates for many years to come.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.
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