The recently concluded North Carolina Senate race provides a vivid example of why it is difficult to have an intelligent conversation about gun ownership in America.
The National Rifle Association and its various arms spent $5.5 million to defeat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. That was the most the gun lobby spent on any race in the country this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Hagan, an ultra-cautious Democratic moderate representing a gun-loving state, would seem an unlikely object for the NRA’s wrath.
She has always described herself as a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, she comes from a military-rich family, and her children all received hunting licenses when they were born.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
She voted against banning high-capacity magazines of more than 10 bullets. She voted to allow firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains, voted to repeal D.C.’s handgun ban, voted for preventing gun ownership from impacting insurance premiums, and she opposed a United Nations arms treaty which gun advocates feared could be used to limit gun rights.
1 vote earns a D+
But then came the massacre of the schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., by a deranged gunman. In its wake, President Barack Obama pushed greater checks on gun sales.
What emerged from the administration’s initiative was a modest bipartisan Senate proposal by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that would require criminal and mental background checks at gun shows and online sales. The bill would have exempted sales or gifting of guns between family members and neighbors. The amendment specifically outlawed any federal gun registry.
The measure received 54 votes in the Senate, including Hagan’s vote in April 2013, short of the 60 needed to break the Republican filibuster.
It turned out to be a $5.5 million vote.
The NRA gave her a D+ grade and began a campaign to oust her from office and elect her opponent, Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis. Tillis received an A from the NRA after having worked successfully to expand conceal carry laws in North Carolina to include school parking lots, public parks and restaurants serving alcohol.
Tied to Bloomberg
Many of the NRA ads tied Hagan to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun control advocate. One ad even purported to show Bloomberg’s mansion with a portrait of Hagan on the wall.
“Out-of-state gun control groups are all-in for Kay Hagan, because she helped Obama and Bloomberg push their extreme anti-gun agenda,” says the announcer in an ad sponsored by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. “Hagan voted for control. So liberal billionaires throw millions at her campaign. That’s how it works.”
Bloomberg’s group, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, reported spending $2,040 on behalf of Hagan’s campaign, according to Opensecrets.org. But it is impossible to know how much he helped Hagan because he contributed to a number of other groups which helped her.
Among them was Americans for Responsible Solutions, a pro-gun-control group started by Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman severely wounded by a deranged gunman. Her organization did spend $944,124 on behalf of Hagan, according to Opensecrets.org.
It’s hard to know what impact the gun control issue played in a Senate race that included so many issues. While $5.5 million is a lot, it is still a modest amount in a race that cost $111 million.
Much was made during the campaign that Hagan voted 96 percent of the time with Obama. But Hagan could and did disagree with Obama on some issues.
But Hagan’s failure to agree with the NRA 100 percent of the time proved costly.
The NRA not only delivered retribution against Hagan. It also sent a message to all other politicians that the gun lobby is not to be crossed.