NRA outspends gun violence researchers six to one

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The most influential gun-rights advocacy group in the U.S. has spent at least six times more money on lobbying and electioneering than what is being spent on research into gun violence—and one expert says that's a conservative estimate.

The National Rifle Association's spending on lobbying efforts has increased almost every year since 2008, a spike that at times coincided with increases in public support for stricter gun laws following one horrific mass shooting or another. Since 2008, the NRA's lobbying expenses increased from $1.6 million to $3.4 million—and that doesn't include an additional tens-of-millions of dollars spent on other campaigns to influence both politicians and the public. There was a 14 percent increase in 2013 in expenditure for lobbying in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in December the year before.

In 2014, the NRA ranked 10th on a list of 186 political action groups with the highest outside expenditures for things like ad campaigns.


"I think they are one of the strongest lobby groups in existence," said Dr Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University who studies gun violence. "They surpass the tobacco industry...the firearms companies with the NRA are the corporations with the greatest influence over Congress." Prior to researching gun violence, Siegel researched tobacco laws and policies.

The pockets for research into gun violence, however, aren't nearly as deep. In 1996, Republican lawmakers added a provision to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budget prohibiting the agency from allocating any federal money for research on gun violence that could potentially be used to promote gun control legislation. The language, Siegel said, is somewhat vague, but he credits the NRA's lobbying efforts as the impetus for the provision. Despite the vague language, he said, the CDC often errors on the side of caution and doesn't study gun violence at all to "avoid confrontation with Congress," where legislators may politicize any potential research. According to the Associated Press, there currently is less than $5 million in funding for research into gun violence, a figure, the AP notes, that is half as much as a grant for a "single study in areas like autism, cancer or HIV." Of the AP's $5 million figure, Siegel said, "I'm surprised to hear it's even that high." The private sector has done little to fill the void, according to the AP report.

In addition to the roughly $3.4 million the NRA spent on lobbyists in 2014, it spent an additional $28.2 million on other efforts like ad campaigns that advocate for fewer restrictions on firearms and other electioneering, according to the latest tally by Open Secrets, a website that tracks lobbying efforts and other expenditures by special interest groups. It also gave nearly $1 million in political contributions, primarily to Republican candidates.

The lack of much substantive data, Siegel said, prevents policy makers from creating informed legislation that may help curb future gun violence.

"One of the most important things that can be done with the data is we could look at firearm ownership and firearm death. If firearm ownership is a risk factor for injury or death, then it's important to know that because it's something we might be able to do something about," he said. "There are detailed pieces of information we could collect – where guns are stored, is there safety locks on them – we could look at that and hopefully do something to prevent that. There's a lot of potential to address firearm violence that we can't do unless we have the data first."

See guns rights activists protesting for open carry laws:

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2016: Gun rights activists, open carry protests
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NRA outspends gun violence researchers six to one
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: A supporter of Michigan's Open Carry law attends a rally and march April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 19: Pat Tillison joins gun rights groups who gathered at Gravelly Point across the Potomac River from the nation's capital for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Fort Hunt Park for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Alexandria, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Gravelly Point across the Potomac River from the nation's capital for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Fort Hunt Park for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Alexandria, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Gravelly Point across the Potomac River from the nation's capital for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: A supporter of Michigan's Open Carry law attends a rally and march April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: Gloria Lincoln-Thompson of Garden City, Michigan carries her Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm pistol in her belt while participating in a rally and march supporting Michigan's Open Carry law April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: Supporters of Michigan's Open Carry law hold a rally and march April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Staff photo by Derek Davis: A pro-gun demonstrator who did not want to be identified stands in a park at Back Cove in Portland during an open-carry gathering at Back Cove in Portland to publicize the right to carry unconcealed weapons. Photographed on Sunday, April 25, 2010. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
A demonstrator helps hold a large "Come and Take It" banner at a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Activist with the organization Open Carry Tarrant County, wave a Don't Tread On Me and Texas flag, as they demonstrate at a busy road intersection, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Scott Smith, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally at the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kory Watkins, front, coordinator for Open Carry Tarrant County carries his Romanian AK 47 over his shoulder as he and his wife Janie, rear, along with others gather for a demonstration, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tara Cowan of Euless, Texas, a member of Open Carry Tarrant County, poses for a portrait with a Saiga 556 rifle as she and members of the group Open Carry Tarrant County gathered for a demonstration, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Kory Watkins, coordinator for Open Carry Tarrant County poses for a portrait holding his Romanian AK 47, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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