The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How gun control is losing, badly (in charts)

(Charles Krupa/AP)
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This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Newtown, Conn.’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty children, six staff members, shooter Adam Lanza and his mother all died that day. The killings reinvigorated both sides of the gun-control debate, but gun rights advocates maintained the edge they’ve had for years.

An impressive (roughly) 1,500 state gun bills have been introduced in the year since the Newtown massacre and, of those, 109 are now law, according to The New York Times. Seventy of the enacted laws loosen gun restrictions, while just 39 tighten them. And, though largely symbolic, some 136 bills nullifying federal gun regulations were sponsored in 40 states. In Colorado, two pro-gun control lawmakers were booted from office in historic recalls and a third stepped down in anticipation of a similar fight.

The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government openness and transparency, reviewed lobbying, spending and policies at the state and federal level over the years and, along nearly every metric, rights advocates have trounced opponents.

Contributions, from 1989 through 2012

The gap between direct contributions in favor of gun rights and those in support of gun control is stunningly large, with gun-control contributions amounting to just 6.5 percent of what gun-rights advocates raised from 1989 through the 2012 elections.

Gun rights candidates and causes raised $29.4 million in direct contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs at the federal and state level. Gun control causes raised just $1.9 million, according to Sunlight-provided data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money In State Politics. In seven states—Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming—no contributions whatsoever were made in support of gun control.

The graph and interactive below show how much each cause received at the federal and state level, by state.


Though support for stricter gun laws spiked slightly recently, it’s falling back down to its historically low levels, according to Gallup data. But while support for stricter laws has fallen, support for loosening restrictions has remained relatively steady. Instead, support for making no changes has climbed.

Federal lobbying

Lobbying spending for gun rights accelerated faster from its already elevated level than that for gun control following both the Columbine High School and Sandy Hook school shootings, according to Sunlight. Gun control groups increased their federal lobbying fivefold to $1.6 million over the past year, yet it still paled in comparison to gun-rights lobbying, which clocked in at $12.2 million.

Broadcast ad buys

There was one metric on which gun-control advocates beat gun-rights advocates in the past year: broadcast ad buys. As shown in the chart below, a wide ad-buy gap developed earlier in the year.

The single largest financial influence on the gun control side was outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nonprofit he founded in 2006, is active in 17 states, according to Sunlight. His personal super PAC, Independence USA, spent about $3 million—more money than any other at the federal level. (About $2.2 million of it went to defeating pro-gun Illinois Rep. Debbie Halvorson.) And he personally gave $350,000 to help defend two Colorado state lawmakers against recall votes. (They both lost.)