As calls for stricter gun reforms grow louder following last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the government watchdog group Common Cause outlined in a new report on Thursday the broad financial power the country's largest pro-gun group holds over lawmakers, allowing it to stymie efforts to pass even popular gun control measures.
The National Rifle Association's (NRA) influence over Washington goes well beyond campaign contributions to specific legislators, according to the study, titled "Power Shift: How People Can Take On the NRA." The group maintains its control over the gun control debate and politicians through lobbying, spending by its corporate partners in the gun industry, and secret spending though its legislative action arm.
"If our political system worked as intended, with everyone enjoying an equal voice in the decisions that affect our lives, our families and our communities, such a combination of facts, backed by public opinion, already would have yielded substantial changes in our gun laws," reads the report. "But the truth is that our system has been thrown out of balance by the power of moneyed interests, including the gun lobby and the weapons industry."
"In a democracy, overwhelming public support for policies should be enough to enact them but too often that isn't the case when special interests oppose them." —Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause
The report was released two days before students, teachers, and other supporters of gun control are expected to turn out in towns and cities across the country for the March for Our Lives, organized by students who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The shooting—which killed 17 people and is just the latest in a long string of mass shootings in recent years, many of which were carried out with military-style semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15—has been followed by demands for reform and declarations that survivors of such attacks will no longer accept "thoughts and prayers" from politicians who refuse to back gun control laws.
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Students and teachers have demanded common-sense gun reforms like a ban on semi-automatic firearms, universal background checks for gun purchasers, restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, and a higher minimum age for buyers.
Despite broad support for common-sense regulations, the NRA has so far managed to steer lawmakers away from even debating, much less passing, such proposals. Aside from the $334,000 the group has spent in 2018 campaign contributions thus far, the NRA raised its lobbying expenditures from $1.8 million to more than $5 million from 2007 to 2017.
In 2016, more than 60 percent of the group's independent spending was done through its Institute for Legislative Action, which does not have to disclose its donors. In addition to lobbying for pro-gun laws, the NRA has also lobbied against efforts to mandate disclosure of donors to political causes.
In order to limit the NRA's power, Common Cause writes, lawmakers first need to pass legislation to extend the democratic process to more Americans. The group suggests automatic voting registration, ending the gerrymandering of congressional districts to tip the scale in favor of political parties, and requiring disclosure of political donations as steps to take, while Americans also continue to push for fun control.
"In a democracy, overwhelming public support for policies should be enough to enact them but too often that isn't the case when special interests oppose them—but with simple reforms we can help restore government to one of the people, by the people and for the people," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, in a statement. "Working together, we can solve the underlying governance challenges so that our Congress and state legislatures are responsive to constituents, not the gun lobby."