House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., walks away from the podium after speaking to the media at a news conference Thursday. Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., walks away from the podium after speaking to the media at a news conference Thursday. Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

Politics & Government

Congress’ NRA loyalists say new gun laws won’t ease shooting sprees

By Lesley Clark

lclark@mcclatchydc.com

February 15, 2018 05:05 PM

WASHINGTON

A day after the Florida high school shooting, gun rights backers offered familiar talking points, noting laws alone can’t stop mass shootings — views that reflected their support for Washington’s powerful gun lobby, notably the National Rifle Association.

The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support President Donald Trump, triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.

Most of that was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.

The NRA contributions are almost entirely directed to Republicans or at efforts to defeat their opponents. A look at 10 members of Congress who have received NRA contributions — all figures are lifetime amounts — and their response to the shooting at a high school in Florida that killed 17:

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Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

NRA contributions: Nearly $7 million

Burr ranks second, behind Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in support from the NRA during his congressional career, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Burr’s NRA total includes more than $5.6 million in spending against his 2016 Democratic challenger Deborah Ross.

Burr declined to offer an opinion on whether Congress should consider any gun control measures, including banning assault-style weapons like the one used by the Florida gunman.

“I'll leave it up to investigators to finish their investigation,” Burr told reporters.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

NRA contributions: More than $4.5 million

Blunt ranks third among members of Congress who've received the most support from the NRA during his career.

He, too, urged caution against reaching for gun control solutions until there are more answers.

"Let's see if any of the current laws were violated or if there's any law that anybody has in mind that would have made a difference,” Blunt told reporters.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

NRA contributions: More than $3.3 million

Rubio is sixth among members of Congress who have received NRA backing.

“The Second Amendment is not the cause of this,” he told the Miami Herald. “The cause of this is individuals who happen to abuse that liberty and that constitutional right for the purposes of conducting these atrocities. And the overwhelming majority of American gun owners don’t do this but all it takes is one person.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

NRA contributions: $1.26 million

“To say that such a brutal, pointless violence is unconscionable is an understatement,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, without mentioning guns. “Schools should be places where children can learn, faculty and staff can work without fear of violence.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

NRA contributions: $77,450

“The reaction of Democrats to any tragedy is to try to politicize it, so they immediately start calling that we’ve got to take away the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens, that’s not the right answer,” he told Fox News.

“The answer is to focus on violent criminals. This individual appears to have significant issues with mental illness. We will certainly be asking, ‘Were there signs of mental illness? Could we have stepped in and prevented this beforehand?’ ”

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.

NRA contributions: $56,000

Jones endorsed a Democratic-Republican, House-Senate commission to study the issue of gun violence, including mental health and gun control. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has also asked for a commission.

“They should meet for a year and talk about the problems in this country when we have our schools where kids can be murdered,” said Jones. “If people don’t get upset about this they’ll never get upset about anything.”

Jones said money from outside groups has made changing policy extremely difficult: “Until we change the system of how we raise the money, at least give an alternative to the system of how we raise money, policy is not going to change,” Jones said.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C.

NRA contributions: $3,000

“Part of this is the depravity of man. I don’t know that you can create legislation that reduces where we are right now as a country with the level of anger, frustration and hatred that exists,” said Walker, who has received $3,000 in NRA money.

“Laws are not made to enhance freedom, laws are made to restrict egregious activity,” said the chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a group of House conservatives. “So we continue to add, but I can’t sit here and look you in the eye and say I’ve got this magic solution of how we resolve all this because there’s a human nature component that’s hard to define.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

NRA contributions: $7,150

“I don’t know anyone who would not pass a bill today that would prevent the next mass shooting,” he told Fox News.

Gowdy questioned the need for additional laws, saying, “if you can show me a law that will prevent the next mass killing, go ahead and sign me up for it.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

NRA contributions: $232,337

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., made an emotional appeal to Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, at a hearing Thursday, asking it to act on gun violence. She suggested the panel at least move forward with legislation to tighten background checks and ban bump stocks, the firearm accessory which enabled a Las Vegas gunman to kill 58 people in just minutes in October.

Grassley replied that he’s agreed to talk with Feinstein and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, to see “what sort of agreement we can reach.”

Grassley said he and Cornyn had talked before the shooting about whether they could find common ground on gun measures.

“It’s just very hard to sit here year after year, doing nothing, so I thank you,” Feinstein said.

House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

NRA contributions: $61,401

“We don’t know all the facts that one needs to know,” Ryan said an in interview with an Indiana radio station. “As public policymakers, we don't just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.”

Existing laws may need to be further enforced, he said, but “I don’t think that means you then roll the conversation into taking away citizens’ rights — taking away a law-abiding citizen’s rights. Obviously this conversation typically goes there. Right now we need to take a breath and collect the facts.”

Alex Daugherty, Andrea Drusch, Emily Cadei, Emma Dumain, Brian Murphy and Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

President Donald Trump addressed the nation a day after the shooting that killed at least 17 at Majory Stoneman Douglas High. "Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families," Trump stated on Feb. 15, 2018.

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