How much has the NRA spent on Missouri and Kansas members of Congress?
After a mass shooting resulted in the deaths of 19 children and 2 teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, the political role and influence of gun-rights lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association are once again coming under scrutiny.
While Republican lawmakers published statements and social media posts addressing the shooting, critics were quick to point out the tight relationships these lawmakers have held with the NRA.
The NRA has contributed lavishly to Senators in both Kansas and Missouri, but especially to the two Republicans from Missouri. Sen. Roy Blunt is the fourth-largest NRA benefactor in Congress, with more than $4.5 million in help since 1996, and Sen. Josh Hawley is the 12th, approaching $1.4 million in contributions in just four years.
But, as University of Kansas political science professor Don Haider-Markel explains, largess isn’t the only thing driving Republicans’ strict adherence to NRA-backed gun policies.
Haider-Markel says that an expansive view of the Second Amendment has become bedrock Republican orthodoxy, and deeply ingrained in the political identities of the party’s most adamant activists.
“This has become one of the top three issues in the Republican party. And if you want to be a Republican in Kansas or Missouri or virtually anywhere else, you have to toe the line on this issue,” said Haider-Markel. “And it’s not just because the NRA might not help you out in the next campaign, it’s because it’s what your constituents want.”
And those constituents can be very adamant. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Republicans and people who lean Republican live in homes with guns.
Haider-Markel says gun owners are more politically active than non-gun owners, so their interests are more regularly represented among elected officials.
“They’re more likely to vote, they’re more likely to contact public officials, and more likely to take part in politics through social media, attending protests and things like that,” he says. “Since gun ownership is part of their social identity, any attack on that is essentially an attack on themselves.”
Haider-Markel says Republicans who stray from gun rights orthodoxy can expect savage attacks from grassroots groups, so discipline in opposing gun regulations is imposed from multiple levels.
Here’s a breakdown of how Missouri and Kansas senators, plus representatives from the Kansas City area, reacted to the Texas school shooting, and where they stand with the NRA. KCUR reached out to all members of Congress whose districts include the Kansas City metropolitan area. Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner and Missouri Reps. Sam Graves and Vicky Hartzler did not respond to KCUR with a comment.
Note: KCUR sourced its information on NRA expenditures from the nonprofit OpenSecrets, which tracked career totals going back to 1989. The NRA’s support includes not just direct contributions from the NRA political action committee and its employees, but also independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates, and spending for or against a candidate’s opponent.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)
Longtime Sen. Roy Blunt, who is retiring this year, says he’s open to the adoption of red flag laws. Such measures keep guns out of the hands of people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“No family should ever have to suffer the loss of a child to a horrific act of violence,” Blunt said. “As we learn more about the facts in this case, I’m open to looking at what we can do, in a bipartisan way, to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring.”
Blunt also noted his support of legislation to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and expansion of the Excellence in Mental Health Program.
“We need to continue working to ensure anyone who has a mental or behavioral health issue can get the treatment they need, when they need it,” Blunt said.
Blunt is one of the top recipients in the Senate of money from the National Rifle Association. According to OpenSecrets, Blunt has accepted $4,555,722 in donations from the NRA since his career began in 1996.
Blunt says he will not be attending the NRA’s convention this weekend in Texas.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri)
Missouri’s junior senator, Josh Hawley, called the loss of life in Texas “heartbreaking,” and offered his prayers.
“As a public official, I believe the time has come to increase penalties for violent crimes and crimes committed with firearms,” Hawley said in an emailed statement. “We must also fully fund our police and local law enforcement and give them the resources they need to keep our kids safe.”
A lawsuit filed last year by the gun control group led by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords alleges the NRA illegally funneled nearly a million dollars to Hawley’s campaign.
The NRA has contributed $1,391,548 to Hawley since his first race in 2018, according to Open Secrets.
Hawley says he will not be attending the NRA convention this weekend.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City)
Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat who grew up in Texas, told KCUR’s Up to Date on Wednesday that the shooting felt personal.
Unless more lawmakers stand up to the NRA, Cleaver said more mass shootings will occur.
“I think the people of this country ought to just come to the conclusion that in terms of the politics of our country, we hate each other more than we love our children,” Cleaver said.
House Democrats passed a bill that would require background checks on all gun sales and transfers, but Cleaver said the bill will likely die in the Senate.
Cleaver, who took his current office in 2005, has not received any money from the NRA according to OpenSecrets. However, the organization has funded some opposition against him. He will not be attending the NRA convention.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas)
Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican, said in an emailed statement that law enforcement in Texas had his full support as they investigated the attack.
“What happened in Uvalde is a horrific tragedy, and I condemn all violence,” Marshall said. “I’m personally devastated to hear of the young lives lost and I will mourn for the loss of these precious lives and mourn with all the families going through this incredibly difficult time.”
A spokesperson for Marshall noted the senator's support for the STOP School Violence Act, which invested in school training and security infrastructure. But Marshall said he would like more funding to help “harden more schools” in Kansas.
He also noted his support of the Fix NICS bill, a bill aimed at strengthening the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Since his first Senate campaign in 2016, Marshall has received a total of $184,585 from the NRA. He is not going to the NRA Convention.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas)
Sen. Jerry Moran addressed the shooting in remarks to FBI Director Christopher Wray during a Senate committee hearing, calling it a “senseless act of violence.”
“In a small town, tight-knit community like Uvalde. That's the size of a town I grew up in. I know there will not be a single member of the community who's not touched by this tragedy,” Moran said.
Moran said that no one doubts that violent crime is a growing problem in the country. He called on the FBI to determine the motives and warnings behind the Texas attack, and asked for their insight on the most effective ways to prevent and respond to these incidents.
Moran has received a total of $37,218 from the NRA since 1996. He is not going to the NRA Convention.
Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas City, Kansas)
Rep. Sharice Davids said in a statement that she was heartbroken for the families who lost a loved one in the shooting.
“Kansans are tired of politicians doing nothing to stop these senseless killings, and they’re tired of the gun lobby having more of a say in our country than they do,” Davids said. “It’s time Washington finally comes together to stop these tragedies. We need common sense, bipartisan, and popular measures like requiring background checks for gun owners, and we need to get big money out of politics.”
A spokesperson for Davids said she has also called for more regulations on “ghost guns” — weapons manufactured by a 3D printer or that don’t possess a serial number — like the firearm allegedly used in the March shooting at Olathe East High School.
Davids also supports a set of voting rights measures known as HR. 1 or the “For the People Act,” which a spokesperson said would “remove the influence of dark money from politics, including that of the NRA and gun lobby.”
Davids has not received any donations from the NRA; rather, the organization has spent a total of $21,774 in opposition, via independent expenditures against Davids and on behalf of her opponent. She will not be going to the NRA convention.
Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.