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Anti-gun control spending stays in the shadows

Guns money American flag
Dennis Flaherty | Getty Images

A mass shooting in rural Oregon has once again touched off a furious debate over gun control and the constitutional right to bear arms.

In a televised press conference, President Barack Obama condemned how "routine" the pattern of mass shootings has become in America. He asked "the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save these lives and let these people grow up."

In 2015 alone, there have been 294 mass shootings, according to Shooting Tracker. Those incidents have claimed 375 lives, while leaving more than a thousand injured.

Gun control advocates say there's a simple reason for congressional inaction on gun control: massive amounts of money spent by pro-gun groups on lobbying and campaigns supporting members of Congress. They often point to the failure of Congress to pass the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, which would have required background checks for firearms bought at gun shows. Although a 2013 Quinnipiac Poll showed a whopping 90 percent of Americans supported background checks, the act failed to pass Congress by six votes.

This money is coming from groups such as the National Rifle Association and the National Association for Gun Rights, but not directly from big gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Sturm and Ruger.

Conversely, groups pushing for increased gun control also lobby the federal government, although not nearly on the scale of the pro-gun groups, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The largest by far is Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Everytown spent $1.7 million lobbying Congress in 2014. The next biggest gun-control lobbyist is the Brady Campaign, which spent $108,000.

Put into context, pro-gun groups spent more than $12 million on lobbying in 2014. There were four groups that spent more than a million each.

Second Amendment advocacy organizations also outspend their opponents in political campaigns. They gave $3.8 million in direct contributions during the 2014 election cycle, with 92 percent of it going to Republican candidates. That's nine times the $424,000 contributed by gun- control groups, all of which went to Democrats.

And those numbers, from CRP, don't even include independent expenditures — spending by outside groups on things susch as mailings and television commercials. The NRA alone spent $28 million in 2014 races on independent expenditures or electioneering communications, compared with $47,000 spent by the Brady Campaign, one of the biggest gun-control groups.

Republicans typically benefit more from gun advocates' campaign contributions and lobbying, but even some of Obama's own party depend on pro-gun funds for election spending. Timothy Waltz, a representative from Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, received $16,868 in campaign contributions from that segment — the most of any Democrat.

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner received $74,690 in campaign contributions, the most of any candidate. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, house majority leader and Boehner's potential successor, received $26,400, the fifth most.

About 54 percent of gun rights lobbyists are former government officials, according to the CRP. Of the 45 gun control lobbyists registered in 2014, almost 70 percent are former federal employees.

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