NRA outspends gun violence researchers six to one
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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