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slides: Gun Money’s Influence in Massachusetts

Saturday, December 14, 2013

 

Guns fuel big money in politics, even in states like Massachusetts, where a combined $182,025 was reported in direct contributions during and after the recent 2011-12 election cycle.

And on the heels of last year's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the state didn't see any new laws pass in 2013 despite advocacy on both sides.

Legislation in both directions

“It's a big chore,” said Jim Wallace, the executive director of Gun Owners' Action League in Northboro, speaking to legislative battles in the Bay State.

“What we've been involved in, for several years, not just this year, is to actually reform the Massachusetts gun laws,” Wallace said. “For lawful citizens, Massachusetts has some of the most convoluted laws in the nation.”

Aside from that, Wallace also considers the current regulations ineffective. Since the late-1990s, he tallied increasing numbers of gun homicides and assaults but a declining number of gun licenses. “We're on a mission to correct that.”

Worcester Acting Commissioner of Public Health Michael Hirsh said he agrees with gun rights advocates that the state has “fairly strict access”.

But, “if you can just drive over the border to New Hampshire ... What difference does it make?”

An advocate for regulations, Hirsh said he sees common ground with gun owners, such as background checks and restricting access to those with mental health issues. (Mental health is one bullet point for Wallace.)

“The Second Amendment has not been something I've attacked,” Hirsh said. “But like every right in the Bill of Rights, there is a responsibility that comes along with it.”

The public health official said he was disappointed that federal reforms faltered earlier this year. But he pointed to President Barack Obama's January executive order that unfroze government research on the causes and prevention of gun violence as a positive step.

Gun money numbers

A lobbyist for gun rights, Wallace said he didn't personally contribute toward individual campaigns, and neither does GOAL, a 15,000-member state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

But the national NRA gives large: In the 2011-12 cycle, they reported $1,599,951 in direct contributions across the country, $5,885,000 in lobbying, and a whopping $19,767,043 in outside spending. The Center for Responsive Politics, which reports those figures, calls the NRA a “heavy hitter” as one of the 140 biggest overall donors in federal elections.

“How the gun lobby works is they're able to be influential with a few key legislators,” said Maureen Moakley, a University of Rhode Island professor of political science, speaking to lobbying at the state level.

Bay State donations

During Massachusetts' special election earlier this year to fill John Kerry's vacant senate seat, the National Shooting Sports Foundation contributed a total $5,500 to Mike Sullivan's failed bid for office.

The numbers were compiled by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation using source data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money In State Politics.

But convoluted campaign finance law doesn't limit or require the disclosure of all types of political spending, meaning total sums are hard to come by.

Public disclosure of contributions

The Sunlight Foundation's latest data includes political contributions reported during the 2011-12 election cycle and through some of 2013. The money went toward candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs), but doesn't include donations to independent or so-called “super PACs”.

In Massachusetts, $104,579 in support of gun rights went toward federal candidates, while $54,058 was donated toward federal candidates by groups in favor of gun control.

There was a greater disproportion in contributions toward state candidates: $20,538 was spent toward gun rights, while $2,850 was spent favoring control.

The disparity between contributions is the same in every state in the nation — a reflection by and large of the NRA's and similar groups' influence.

In 2012, the bulk of individual state contributions favoring gun rights in Massachusetts went toward former state Sen. Scott Brown, who lost in that year's general election. The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action also contributed independent expenditures opposing Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic victor in that race.

'Goods for Guns' buyback

On the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting, Worcester is holding its 12th annual “Goods for Guns” buyback program today, Saturday, Dec. 14. The program takes place at Worcester Police headquarters from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The initiative was spurred by Hirsh, a UMass Memorial pediatrician who lost a close friend and colleague to a random shooting over 30 years ago.

To date, he said the program had received 2,311 firearms, at a cost of $123,000, which he described as less than the medical bills of three gunshot victims. Three-quarters of the guns taken in at the buyback have been handguns or semiautomatics.

Hirsh said a quarter of the guns used in violent crimes in Worcester were stolen.

Legislation after Newtown

Following Newtown, Connecticut was among eight states to enact new, substantial reforms in 2013. Thirteen more passed smaller reforms.

Activity in state legislatures was not solely focused on tighter regulation, however; an April review of 1,500 bills by the Sunlight Foundation found a nearly even split between the number of proposed bills that would further regulate guns and bills designed to extend or defend gun rights.

Ranking states' laws

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island were among the states with the strongest gun laws in the nation according to a Dec. 9 report by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit in support of regulation.

In state by state scorecards from the law center, based on a review of state laws in 30 different firearms-related policy areas, Massachusetts ranked 6 th in the nation and earned a “B+” grade. In 2010, the state had the second lowest number of gun deaths per capita.

Rhode Island ranked 9th, earning a grade of “B-”. In 2010, the state had the third lowest number of gun deaths per capita.

California topped the rankings.

Elsewhere in New England, Connecticut took the 2nd place spot, New Hampshire was 23rd, and Maine and Vermont were among the 25 states earning an “F”, ranked at 27th and 46th, respectively.

 

Related Slideshow: The Influence of Gun Money in New England States

New Data from The Sunlight Foundation shows state-by-state breakdowns for donations to groups on both sides of the gun debate. The money went toward candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs), but doesn't include donations to independent or so-called “super PACs”.

 

See how much money went to candidates in each of the New England States in the slides below.

Prev Next

Rhode Island

State Candidates

Control $: 0

Rights $: 229650

Federal Candidates

Control $: 19557

Rights $: 5612

Prev Next

Massachusetts

State Candidates

Control $: 2850

Rights $: 20538

Federal Candidates

Control $: 54058

Rights $: 104579

Prev Next

Maine

State Candidates

Control $: 8325

Rights $: 51700

Federal Candidates

Control $: 27318

Rights $: 142505

Prev Next

Connecticut

State Candidates

Control $: 4076

Rights $: 56200

Federal Candidates

Control $: 43666

Rights $: 121596

Prev Next

Vermont

State Candidates

Control $: 0

Rights $: 40330

Federal Candidates

Control $: 4500

Rights $: 7550

Prev Next

New Hampsire

State Candidates

Control $: 1500

Rights $: 22475

Federal Candidates

Control $: 34337

Rights $: 293560

 
 

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Comments:

Iron Mike Farquhar

The 'influence' of guns on our society is that because we HAD THEM, we are a free country!

We will only STAY FREE, when we have the ultimate power of GUNS to tame and control out-of-control would-be tyrants – like today's liberal democrats...

Molon Labe!

Sandy Williamson

In the article, Dr. Hirsh is quoted as saying: "... a quarter of the guns used in violent crimes in Worcester were stolen."

Perhaps he could tell us about the other three quarters.

What is the nature of these guns? Obviously not stolen, but were any legally possessed? If so, what percentage? Illegal possession is the issue here.

Yet we see cases every week in Worcester where illegal possession is plea bargained. If the criminals get no penalty, how are additional restrictions going to improve conditions for anyone.

Perhaps Dr. Hirsh could tell us what percentage of convictions actually occur in such cases. If it is less than 100%, he has more work to do.

C Norris

Until the Gov can show me that there is ZERO crime and ZERO threat of anyone assaulting me, my family or property, im keeping my guns.

When the day comes that MA judges actually put people in jail for crime, until they actually enforce "mandatory minimums", until judges reject bail for armed home invasions instead of $100 bail and back onto the same block where the crime occurred... Guess what, Im holding on to that pesky 2nd amendment.

Barry Hirsh

In case you were unaware, money is speech in political matters. See: Citizens United.




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