Media Exaggerate NRA's Ability To Punish Politicians Who Favor Popular Gun Violence Prevention Measures

Members of the media have been quick to push the myth that the National Rifle Association can remove politicians from office who support new gun violence prevention measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The influence wielded by the NRA has been overblown by the media for years, a fact further evidenced by the organization's poor showing during the 2012 elections.

Media Hypes NRA Power While Minimizing Public Support For Gun Violence Prevention Measures

Fox News' Chris Wallace: Support For Gun Violence Prevention Measures An Important Factor In Gore's 2000 Defeat. On the December 16 edition of Fox News Sunday, Wallace suggested to Al Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), that “a lesson” of the 2000 presidential campaign was that support for the assault weapons ban contributed to Gore's defeat:

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Back in the 90's you supported the Brady law, which called for a five day waiting period.


WALLACE: You supported the assault weapons ban. Then in 2000, you and Al Gore campaigned around the country and you lost, and a lot of people took as a lesson, part of it was in states like Tennessee and West Virginia, the fact that you were pro-gun control. And quite frankly ever since Democrats have been scared of touching that issue. [Fox News Sunday12/16/12]

Meet The Press Host David Gregory Claims That Assault Weapons Ban Came At “Tremendous Political Cost To Democrats” And That There Has Been “Declining Support Since 1990 For Gun Control Measures.” From the December 16 edition of Meet the Press on NBC, where Gregory's suggestion was challenged by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR: I think the President through his leadership could get a bill like that through Congress. But at least he has got to try, that's his job.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST: But isn't it significant that he may only be able to try? That we've seen declining support since 1990 for stricter gun control measures? We've seen the assault weapons ban come and go. Tremendous political cost to Democrats when they first got it passed?

BLOOMBERG: What's the political cost? The NRA's number one objective this time was to defeat Barack Obama for a second term. The last time I checked the election results he won and he won comfortably. This myth that the NRA can destroy political careers is just not true.

GREGORY: It's not a myth that after the assault weapons ban was passed there was a huge political price for Democrats to pay and nearly 20 years later they don't want to touch the issue.

BLOOMBERG: Well it is true that they lost a lot of seats then. The cause and effect isn't quite so clear. And what happened then isn't what happens now. [Meet the Press12/16/12]   

Politico Uncritically Promotes Concerns Of “Political Backlash” Against Democrats Who Support New Gun Laws. From a December 16 article by Jonathan Allen: 

But there's little reason for congressional gun-control advocates to believe that this tragedy will spark a rush to legislate. When Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House from January 2009 to January 2011, they didn't reauthorize the assault weapons ban or put any other gun laws on the books. Party leaders have been afraid of a potential political backlash against culturally conservative Democrats from swing states, some of whom want to keep the National Rifle Association in their camp - or at least on the sidelines. [Politico 12/16/12]

The New York Times: “Public Support For Stricter Gun-Control Laws Has Waned Since 2008.” From a December 15 article in The New York Times by Charlie Savage:

Americans remain closely divided on the issue of gun rights, but public support for stricter gun-control laws has waned since 2008, according to several polls taken before the shootings in Newtown, Conn. [The New York Times12/15/12

The Value Of NRA Endorsements And Campaign Contributions Is Highly Overrated

American Prospect's Paul Waldman: NRA Campaign Cash “Has Little More Than Symbolic Effect.” From a February 9 article published at by American Prospect contributing editor (and former Media Matters staffer) Paul Waldman: 

The truth, however, is that while the NRA spends a good deal of money in total, that money is spread over so many races -- well over 200 House races alone every election - that it has little more than symbolic effect. The typical NRA contribution to a House candidate is around $2,500, including both primary and general election contributions. At a time when a candidate in a competitive House race can expect to spend at least a million dollars and sometimes much more, this amount is insignificant - on average, less than two-tenths of one percent of an NRA recipient's budget comes from the group. That may be enough to keep the volunteers in donuts, but it won't swing any races. [, 2/9/12]

Waldman: “In All But A Tiny Number Of Races, The NRA Endorsement Is Essentially Meaningless.” From a February 13 article published at

So nearly every NRA endorsee gets nothing from the organization's nod. There is, however, one group that gets a small boost: Republican challengers who get endorsed when they run against Democratic incumbents do about 2 percentage points better than similar candidates who don't get the endorsement.

That may mean that in certain cases at certain times, an NRA endorsement can help a little (and one can be certain that since the organization endorses few challengers, it picks those candidates carefully, looking for ones it thinks have a good shot at winning). But those races form a tiny portion of their endorsements: only 5 percent of the NRA's endorsements go to Republican challengers. In other words, in all but a tiny number of races, the NRA endorsement is essentially meaningless. [, 2/13/12]

The NRA Spent Nearly $12 Million In A Failed “All In” Attempt To Defeat Obama The National Rifle Association Spent $8.9 Million Opposing President Obama And $3 Million Supporting Mitt Romney. From a December 14 article:

On top of the NRA's contributions, the group also made about $17 million in independent expenditures in the 2012 election cycle. About $11.4 million was spent opposing Democrats and $5.9 million was spent favoring Republicans. The group spent most of its millions on two candidates: $8.9 million against Obama and $3 million supporting Romney. [, 12/14/12]

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre: "Either We Defeat Barack Obama ... Or We Lose This Election And Lose It All." From an article in the NRA's publication America's 1st Freedom titled “All In!”:

This year's election could prove the most disastrous in the history of this country. Why? Because this election will decide whether Americans remain free.

There's no simpler, more accurate or exact way to say it--it's all or nothing.

Either we defeat Barack Obama and retain all the benefits of our pro-gun victories over the past 30 years--from the Firearms Owners' Protection Act and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, to the Right-to-Carry revolution, Castle Doctrine, hunter protection and landmark victories in the U.S. Supreme Court--or we lose this election and lose it all. [America's 1st Freedom2011, emphasis original]

The NRA Supported The Losing Candidate In Six Of Seven Senate Races Where It Spent Over $100,000. [Media Matters, 11/7/12]

Over Two-Thirds Of House Incumbents Who Lost Seats In 2012 Elections Were Endorsed By The NRA. [Media Matters11/13/12]

Pollsters: Voters In Three Key Swing States Trusted President Obama More Than Mitt Romney On The Gun Issue. Republican pollster Chesapeake Beach Consulting and Democratic pollster Momentum Analysis found that Virginia voters who remembered hearing from the NRA said it made them favor Democrat Tim Kaine, who defeated NRA-backed George Allen in the Virginia Senate race:

Despite nearly $12 million in reported election spending by the NRA in the Presidential race Obama emerged with an advantage on the issue. Voters in Virginia trusted Obama over Romney on gun laws by a nine-point margin. More also preferred Obama over Romney on guns in North Carolina and Colorado, though Obama's advantage is within each poll's margin of error.


Survey results confirm that the NRA leadership has little to show for its investment, in terms of either voter recall or persuasion. Only about a quarter of voters in each state recalled seeing, reading or hearing something about a race from the NRA (27% in Colorado, 22% in North Carolina, 26% in Virginia) with recall in nongun-owning households even lower (13% in CO, 15% in NC,17% in VA). And in no state did Romney best Obama on the issue. About half of Virginians trusted Obama over Romney on gun laws, while Obama led Romney among Coloradans and North Carolinians within the margin of error.

The gun lobby's efforts in the U.S. Senate contest in Virginia - where the NRA spent at least $700,000 to elect Republican George Allen - produced mixed results at best. Among voters who remembered hearing from the NRA, slightly more said it made them more favorable about Senator-Elect Tim Kaine  (34%) than felt less favorable (30%). The effect of NRA messaging on Republican George Allen's standing was similarly mixed (31% more favorable as a result, 29% less favorable). Note also those who recalled hearing the NRA's election messaging were more likely to be in the NRA's base: they were disproportionately Republican, male and live in gun-owning households. [Chesapeake Beach Consulting and Momentum Analysis, 11/19/12

Claims That The NRA Successfully Punished Democrats In 1994 And 2000 For Supporting Gun Violence Prevention Measures Are Exaggerated

Waldman: No Evidence To Suggest That Gore's Position On Guns Contributed To Electoral Defeat. From a February 22 article published at

And when one looks for actual evidence that the gun issue cost Gore more votes than it gained him, one comes up empty. Few scholars have performed a quantitative analysis of the role of guns in the vote of 2000, though one study examining a range of policy issues determined that the gun issue gave Gore a small advantage on election day. The argument from those who believe that the gun issue was decisive and worked against Gore usually amounts to little more than the fact that Gore lost some states where there are many pro-gun voters. This argument presumes that there were no areas in which Gore's position on guns helped him win a state he might otherwise have lost. But Gore won swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa largely on his strength among urban and suburban voters, who are more likely to support restrictions on guns. [, 2/22/12]

Waldman: 1994 Elections A Result Of Highly Partisan Politics, Not The Passage Of The Assault Weapons Ban. From a February 22 article published at

In other words, the best way to understand 1994 is in terms of partisanship, not in terms of the specifics of the gun issue, or any other one issue. To the extent a vote in favor of the crime bill made a difference to a Democratic incumbent's election prospects, it was as one of a group of indicators - on issues like health care, gays in the military, and taxes - of whether the candidate was with or against his party in a year when that party did poorly in Republican areas. All these factors combined to create a wave election in which issues could not be separated from party. And if there was any single issue that did the most damage to Democrats that year, it was more likely the failed attempt at health care reform, according to post-election polling conducted by Stanley Greenberg, Clinton's pollster at the time. [, 2/22/12]

Polling Indicates Strong Public Support For Specific Gun Violence Prevention Measures

CNN Poll: A Majority Of Americans Support Mandatory Background Checks, Bans On Assault Weapons And High Capacity Magazines, And Laws To Prevent Felons And People With Mental Health Problems From Owning Guns. From an August 7-8 CNN poll:

[CNN, 8/7-8/12

62 Percent Of Americans Support Legislation Banning The Sale Of Assault Weapons. According to a June 2011 Time magazine poll, a ban on the sale of assault weapons was supported by 73 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans. [Time6/23/11]

Nearly Nine In Ten Americans Favor Requiring Background Checks For Every Gun Purchase. According to a January 2011 American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis poll, 86 percent of all respondents, including 81 percent of individuals who have a gun in their home, support universal background checks. [American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis, January 2011]

Almost Two-Thirds Of Americans Favor Banning High Capacity Magazines. 63 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of gun-owning households, support banning high capacity magazines that can hold many rounds of ammunition, like those used in the July 20 Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre. [CBS News/New York Times Poll, January 2011]

Two-Thirds Of Americans Support A National Registry For Gun Owners To Report Their Weapons. 66 percent of Americans, including 49 percent of gun-owning households, support a national gun registry. [American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis, January 2011]