<blockquote>In the wake of the horror in Las Vegas this week, countless politicians, journalists and commentators are insisting that the National Rifle Association has a “stranglehold” on the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton claimed that the GOP-controlled Congress simply does “whatever they are told to do” by the NRA and the gun lobby.
The New York Times listed total NRA donations to certain GOP politicians alongside their statements offering condolences and prayers for the victims in Las Vegas. And the op-ed pages have been suffused with claims that the NRA has bought Republicans with blood money, stifling the popular will and thwarting democracy in the process.
There’s just one problem: It’s not true.
Oh, it’s certainly the case that the NRA and related groups have given a good amount of money to Republican politicians (and quite a few Democrats) over the years. But in the grubby bazaar of politician-buying, the NRA is a bit player.
Consider that $3.5 million in donations over nearly 20 years the Washington Post made such a fuss about. According to Opensecrets.org, the legal profession contributed $207 million to politicians in 2016 alone. Fahr LLC, the outfit that oversees the political and philanthropic efforts of billionaire anti-global-warming activist Ton Steyer, gave $90 million (all to Democrats) in 2016.
Some people, even when they know these numbers, still can’t let go of the idea that opposition to gun control is bought and paid for.
Tim Mullaney, a writer for Marketwatch, wrote a richly detailed essay in which he chronicled just how minuscule the NRA’s financial support is — and how small the entire gun industry is — and yet he still concluded it has to be about the money. He writes that “it’s shocking when you realize that it costs only $2,500 per each of the 22,000 or so gun-murder victims of the last election cycle to make Congress cower and refuse to tighten gun rules.”
Part of the problem, I think, is that people who hate guns and gun rights cannot believe that people disagree with them in good faith. There must be evil motives, chiefly greed, that explain everything.
The simple reality is that the NRA doesn’t need to spend a lot of money convincing politicians to protect gun rights. All it needs to do is spend a little money clarifying that a great many of those politicians’ constituents care deeply about gun rights.
Politicians may be craven (it’s often the safest assumption), but their priority is winning elections. Money-grubbing is a means to that end. And so is vote-grubbing. Maybe some politicians secretly favor stricter controls on guns. But what keeps them from pursuing such restrictions isn’t cash from the NRA; it’s votes from their passionate constituents.
In other words, don’t follow the money, follow the votes.</blockquote>