slides: Gun Money’s Influence in Massachusetts
Saturday, December 14, 2013
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.
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.
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