It’s no secret that pro-gun lobbyists like the National Rifle Association (NRA) overwhelmingly support Republican politicians. It’s an old joke that Republicans tend to campaign with a “God, Guns, [anti-]Gays” platform and, like many well-worn clichés, it keeps getting repeated because there’s more than a little truth to it.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, John McCain is–by far–the recipient of the most generous donations from “gun rights” organizations. He receives about $400,000 more than John Thune (R-SD), who received the second highest total amount of monetary gifts from pro-gun groups.
Here’s a chart the CRP shared on Open Secrets:
To be scrupulously fair, McCain was the Republican nominee for President in 2008, and, as such, probably drew extra donations from all flavors of conservative political groups, not just the NRA and their ilk. That may or may not be why Michele Bachmann made the Top Twenty list, since she was the Republicans’ Golden Child (and in the lead in the polls for about five whole minutes) way back in 2011. It’s not surprising that House Speaker John Boehner is on it, either.
The table above includes all known donations to these politicians (the regrettable SCOTUS ruling on “Citizens United” has made it more difficult to track all political donations made) since 1989. Speaking of, here are the top pro-gun groups and how they spend some of their money (note that, unlike the table above, these donations were made between 2009-2011):
The Center for Responsive Politics explains the methodology behind the above statistics:
The numbers on this page are based on contributions from PACs, soft money donors, and individuals giving $200 or more. (Only those groups giving $5,000 or more are listed here. Soft money applies only to cycles 1992-2002.) In many cases, the organizations themselves did not donate; rather the money came from the organization’s PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.
The NSSF may be of particular interest to Addicting Info readers because it primarily donates to Democrats, which is unusual, and because it is located near Newtown, Connecticut, where the recent Sandy Hook school massacre took place.
It is likely that McCain would still benefit from the NRA’s largesse even if he hadn’t run for President, because (with very few exceptions) McCain promotes Big Gun’s points of view faithfully. Interestingly, McCain may not even be a current gun owner:
Q: Tell us about your gun collection, roughly how many you own, what your favorite make, model and caliber is, if any of them require a tax stamp?
McCain: For a long time I used a lot of guns, including carrying a .45 as a pilot flying in combat over Vietnam. I know how to use guns. I don’t own one now. (Source: 2007 GOP YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida , Nov 28, 2007)
McCain is also skilled at parroting popular pro-gun viewpoints. Let’s examine a few. From McCain’s 2008 Senate campaign website, www.johnmccain.com, “Issues”:
John McCain believes that the right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is a fundamental, individual Constitutional right. We have a responsibility to ensure that criminals who violate the law are prosecuted to the fullest, rather than restricting the rights of law abiding citizens. Gun control is a proven failure in fighting crime. Law abiding citizens should not be asked to give up their rights because of criminals–criminals who ignore gun control laws anyway.
Translation: “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.”
The problem with this talking point is that it is patent nonsense. Most recent mass shootings in the United States were done with legally purchased (some were purchased at gun shows, with their notoriously lax background check policies, or online, where there are few if any background checks required) and registered firearms. This indicates that our regulations are not stringent enough to make it difficult for those who intend to use guns to hurt other people to acquire weapons.
Also, “criminals will just ignore the law, so let’s not change the law” is a terrible excuse. Some people disregard the speed limit when driving, and people still steal from, assault and rape other people even though there are laws that prohibit these transgressions. Few sensible people suggest that these laws should be made less stringent or be repealed.
Wonkblog author Ezra Klein explored some statistics about guns in the United States in an article for the Washington Post. One fact he discovered: ”States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.”
More from Klein’s article:
Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive:
“The map overlays the map of firearm deaths above with gun control restrictions by state,” explains Florida. “It highlights states which have one of three gun control restrictions in place – assault weapons’ bans, trigger locks, or safe storage requirements. Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48).”
So much for that pro-gun conservative talking point. Perhaps stricter gun control is not a bad (or useless) idea after all.
More from from McCain’s 2008 Senate campaign website:
John McCain opposes backdoor attempts to restrict Second Amendment rights by holding gun manufacturers liable for crimes committed by third parties using a firearm, and has voted to protect gun manufacturers from such inappropriate liability aimed at bankrupting the entire gun industry. McCain says, “Neither justice nor domestic peace are served by holding the innocent responsible for the acts of the criminal.”
Translation: McCain wasn’t even trying to hide that he is for protecting gun manufacturers, not gun-owning individuals, here.
McCain opposes restrictions on so-called “assault rifles” and voted consistently against such bans. McCain opposes bans on the importation of certain types of ammunition magazines and has voted against such limitations. McCain believes that banning ammunition is just another way to undermine Second Amendment rights. He voted against an amendment that would have banned many of the most commonly used hunting cartridges on the spurious grounds that they were “armor-piercing.”
Translation: McCain believes the Second Amendment protects people who want to purchase assault rifles and armor-piercing ammunition (we’ll ignore all the superfluous scare quotes).
Here’s a good example of McCain sucking up to Big Gun (Todd S. Purdum quotes McCain in an article for The New York Times, Aug 17, 1999):
If you want to take every gun in and dump it in the ocean, I’ll still take you to a Web site where it teaches children how to build a pipe bomb. And I’ll take you to a Web site where the worst kind of hate language that is terribly offensive to all of us exists. I can take you to a video game being sold to our children where the object of the game is to kill police. I understand the importance of weapons, but to define that as being the major cause [of youth violence], there’s a whole lot of causes.
Translation: “Why don’t we ban cars / knives / bombs / blunt objects, because they can hurt or kill people, too,” “Free speech that includes hateful things we don’t like is to blame, not guns” and “Gun violence is due to pop culture / scary web sites / video games / TV / movies / society / comic books / horror novels / music / musicians / Goths / single moms — not guns”: a trifecta!
Even an NRA-snuggling fellow like McCain has run afoul of their agenda on occasion. McCain supported the “Youth Violence Prevention Act” in 1999, which sought to make it illegal for juveniles to own weapons, have easy access to weapons or carry weapons to school, and which would apply adult sentences to juveniles who used guns to commit crimes. It also sought to ban juveniles who had been incarcerated for these types of crimes from being future gun owners. Fairly sensible, really.
When he made an attempt to support closing the gun show loophole that allows individuals to stock up on weapons without stringent background checks or waiting periods, however, he was nearly flayed alive by angry gun lobbyists and fellow supporters of then-President Bush, possibly because closing the gun show loophole was an idea promoted by Democrats. Per the Associated Press’ Scott Lindlaw (Aug 17, 1999):
McCain favors outlawing cheaply made handguns called Saturday night specials, and favors mandating safety locks on certain guns. He said he is intrigued by new technology that electronically identifies a person handling a gun, allowing only the owner to fire it. McCain rallied Senate Republicans behind a Democratic measure requiring background checks at gun shows.
According to a May 7, 2002 article by Elizabeth Drew hosted at On The Issues:
A recall petition drive was started in June 2001 by the Arizona far right. The petition complained that McCain was disloyal to the President, especially in voting against his tax bill, and it also complained about his proposal to close the gun show loophole. One form of the petition accused him of backing “dishonest and treasonist” legislation. Several of the petitions were posted at gun shops.
The NRA was particularly angry with him for its being included in his campaign finance reform bill, and for trying to tighten a loophole in the gun control laws. McCain himself was sufficiently concerned that he sent a 4-page, single-spaced letter to every GOP precinct leader in Arizona. He called for “greater tolerance” for Republicans “who occasionally dissent” from one or another majority position held by a party. He explained his vote against Bush’s tax cut and talked about the need to build up national defense, about his work on the patients’ bill of rights, and the gun show loophole.
McCain attempted to woo the NRA back (and protect Big Gun, again) when he voted YES twice on two versions of a bill seeking to prohibit lawsuits against gun manufacturers (if made law, this “would block certain civil lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers of firearms and ammunition, mainly those lawsuits aimed at making them liable for gun violence.” (References: Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act; Bill S.1805/H.R.1036 ; vote number 2004-30 on Mar 2, 2004 and Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act; Bill S 397 ; vote number 2005-219 on Jul 29, 2005.)
In 2004, the bill sought to also protect trade groups, members-only gun swaps / meets hosted by nonprofit gun clubs, and dealers selling guns out of their own homes (i.e., these groups / individuals could still swap weapons around with other people without running background checks), and wanted all pending lawsuits against gun manufacturers to be dropped.
The bill resurfaced in 2005, still seeking to protect gun manufacturers from all those pesky lawsuits. This time there were some concessions made: individuals who “knowingly transfer” firearms that get used to commit certain types of crimes, and lawsuits tied to product defects would not be exempt. The bill also sought to prohibit armor-piercing ammo and to require “all licensed importers, manufacturers and dealers who engage in the transfer of handguns to provide secure gun storage or safety devices.”
Needless to say, an assault weapon ban that needed to be renewed in 2004 was ignored and allowed to lapse, making it legal to buy assault weapons again. McCain voted against the Brady Bill and this assault weapon ban.
McCain has also voted for allowing weapons in checked baggage on Amtrak trains, against background checks at gun shows, for loosening license & background checks at gun shows, for maintaining current gun sale laws (in other words, not requiring guns be sold with mandatory trigger locks), against another gun registration / trigger lock law specifically restricted to Washington, D.C., and for allowing firearms in National Parks.
If we are going to have serious discussions about gun violence in this country, we need to separate the interests of gun manufacturers (the group the NRA really supports) from responsible gun owners, we need to get serious about sensible restrictions on the types of weaponry and ammunition civilians are allowed to buy, own, and use, and hold politicians like John McCain accountable for his voting record–good and bad–on gun control, gun registration, gun show background checks, waiting periods, “concealed carry” / transport of weapons and other ammunition-, body armor- and gun-related legislation.
In the meantime, if you aren’t a member of a well-regulated militia carrying around a vintage flintlock musket, fewer and fewer people give a rat’s behind about the NRA-approved loose interpretation of the Second Amendment, especially when their agenda isn’t the “freedom” they market to gullible gun enthusiasts, but helping gun manufacturers make obscene profits off of gun sales. When we are dealing with mass shootings nearly every week in the United States, the NRA’s “nearly anything goes” attitude towards Second Amendment rights is no longer palatable or acceptable. The number of tyrants we have thwarted thanks to that amendment? Zero. Number of mass shootings thwarted by a gun owner packing heat? Zero (even though Right Wing Nut Job, Bible-thumper and washed-up comedian Victoria Jackson is currently posting on Facebook about some random no-name conservative blogger’s unsubstantiated claim that this happened at the Clackamas mall shooting). I don’t suppose I need to point out how many innocent people die every day, every week, every month, every year in the United States because of our collective mad love of guns and inability to stop shooting people with them.
We can do better than this.