The National Rifle Association uses a number of tools to ensure that lawmakers support its priorities. One is money, of course; the political arm of the organization spent more than $50 million in the 2016 election cycle.
Another is report cards. The NRA gives candidates for office a letter grade indicating how good (or bad) the lawmaker is on gun issues. In the estimation of the NRA, an A-plus grade indicates that a lawmaker would be highly unlikely to support new gun restrictions. A lawmaker who regularly backed new gun laws probably would earn an F.
With the increased focus on guns following high-profile mass shootings, NRA letter grades have become a shorthand almost as powerful as the D or R next to a politician’s name. The NRA is one of the most polarizing organizations in the country (as is Planned Parenthood), and its stamp of approval or formal rejection gives voters a sense of how candidates feel about gun laws.
Last week, though, the Washington Post reported a change in the NRA’s presentation of its letter grades. Although evaluations for current races are online, past grades — once available to members — no longer are. When a Post reporter called the NRA to find out where the past grades had gone, the person who answered the phone said, “I think our enemies were using that.”
One of the most fervent enemies of the NRA is the group Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that advocates for legislation aimed at reducing gun violence. After our report, Everytown compiled a database of past lawmaker grades — more than 60,000 of them stretching back to 2009 — and, on Wednesday, made them available online.
The database lends itself to some interesting data analysis. For example, Republicans have consistently been much more uniform in receiving A grades from the NRA than Democrats have been in receiving F grades.
In 2017, 14 percent of Democrats (including candidates at the state level) received A grades. No Republicans received an F.
The candidates who are graded are selected intentionally by the NRA. It won’t bother weighing in on every race (like a Democrat-vs.-Democrat race in Los Angeles, for example, or Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton). Its grades can be used to cajole and punish candidates, just as its money can be.
Why did Everytown compile the data? In a statement, the organization explained that “the NRA wanted to hide this information from the public. Everytown thinks it is important that voters see it.”
We took the data compiled by Everytown and made an interactive version of it. Search for a lawmaker by first or last name and, if desired, state, and the grades included in the Everytown database will be shown.
How to use this tool: Those grades in bolded red indicate an election cycle in which the candidate also received the NRA’s endorsement. Click on the grade to see grades received by the candidate’s opponents. “P” indicates a primary election, “G” a general and “S” a special. A grade of “AQ” is an A granted solely on the basis of a questionnaire. A “?” means no grade was given.
The NRA told us last week that it removed the old grades simply because they were specific to particular candidates at particular points in time. That’s obviously true. The search tool above, though, allows you to see how those grades might have evolved for particular lawmakers — and which candidates at one point in time were loved or hated by the NRA.