A story of the NRA’s influence — in 2 charts

December 19, 2012

Following the mass shootings in Connecticut last Friday, there is momentum building to do something -- the "what" remains less clear -- to curtail the frequency of these sorts of tragedies.

President Obama has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a legislative task force designed to assess the best approach to reduce gun violence. Pro-gun Senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia have made clear something should be done. Even the National Rifle Association has pledged to find ways to make sure we never have another Newtown.

That last piece may be the most critical to the possibility of an actual "big" deal on guns in Congress. The simple fact  -- and many gun control advocates will blanch at hearing it -- is that the NRA has the muscle to make or break (or come damn close) any major piece of gun legislation.

Why? The disparity between what the NRA spends on political activities -- lobbying and campaigns -- and what the best-funded gun-control advocacy group (Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence) spends is absolutely massive.

Check out these two charts from the Sunlight Foundation. The first compares the election spending of the NRA and the Brady group. The second breaks down expenditures by the NRA and Brady on lobbying.

What the above charts make clear is that this isn't even a lopsided fight between the NRA and Brady. It's a walkover.  From a politician's perspective, voting for gun control measures that the NRA opposes has real world implications (and not good ones) while voting against the wishes of the gun control crowd is absolutely penalty-free.

The rapid change in public opinion on guns in the wake of Newtown is a bit of a leveler in this equation but it still doesn't make up for the fact that the NRA has no equal or even really an opponent, politically speaking, arguing for gun control. (One potential difference maker: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who spent heavily to defeat gun rights advocates in the 2012 election.)

That reality means that finding a way to bring the NRA in on whatever reforms are being proposed may be the key to ensuring some legislative fix -- or attempted fix -- to curb gun violence can make it through Congress.  If the NRA stands in opposition, the path to passage gets significantly more difficult.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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