If lawmakers are guilty of tiptoeing around gun control issues, it is because the NRA and other gun rights groups wield an enormous amount of influence in Washington. The source of that influence is money. Gun rights groups have given more than $17 million in individual, PAC and soft money contributions to federal candidates and party committees since 1989. Nearly $15 million, or 85 percent of the total, has gone to Republicans. The National Rifle Association is by far the gun rights lobby's biggest donor, having contributed more than $14 million over the past 15 years. Gun control advocates, meanwhile, contribute far less money than their rivals -- a total of nearly $1.7 million since 1989, of which 94 percent went to Democrats. The leading contributor among gun control advocates is the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, formerly known as Handgun Control, which has given $1.5 million over the past 15 years.
If gun rights groups have a substantial advantage in campaign contributions, they dominate gun control advocates in the area of lobbying. The NRA alone spent nearly $11 million lobbying elected and government officials from 1997 to 2003. But it wasn't the gun rights lobby's biggest spender. That was Gun Owners of America, which spent more than $18 million on lobbing over the same period. By contrast, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spent under $2 million on lobbying from 1997 to 2003, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence spent $580,000.
The National Rifle Association has an additional advantage over all other groups in the debate. As a membership organization, the NRA can spend unlimited funds on communications to its 4 million members that identify pro-gun candidates. Those members also contribute millions of dollars in limited donations to the NRA's political action committee, which runs ads aimed at the general public that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a federal candidate. Since 1989, the NRA has spent more than $22 million on communications costs and independent expenditures, with more than $18 million spent in support of Republican candidates.