The Trace is pleased to announce that staff writer Mike Spies has been named a finalist for the distinguished Livingston Awards for Young Journalists. His ongoing examination of the National Rifle Association’s influence on state policy and politics is being recognized in the awards’ national reporting category.
“For an organization that exerts an enormous amount of influence on American politics, the NRA manages to keep much of its work hidden from view. With my reporting, I’ve tried to flip on a few light switches in what is a very big, dark room,” Spies said. “I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Mike has trained a sustained lens on the NRA since 2015 — well before the group spent unprecedented sums electing the current president. In Gunfighters, the body of work being considered by Livingston judges, Mike revealed new details about how the group amasses and preserves influence, and how that influence has real consequences for the gun violence debate in America.
In “The Reasonable Killing of an 89-Pound Boy,” published with Rolling Stone, Mike explored the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy as he rifled through a car in St. Louis, and how Missouri’s softening gun laws curtail city officials’ ability to pursue justice. For “Torpedoed,” co-published with the Tampa Bay Times, Mike obtained public records that showed how Marion Hammer, one of the NRA’s most feared lobbyists, bullied Florida officials to kill an environmental lawsuit against a gun range.
The linchpin of the series is “The NRA’s Straight-A Students,” which shows how individual lawmakers vie to impress the group to receive higher letter grades, and how others have been punished for failing to advance the group’s agenda. For the piece, co-published with the New York Daily News, Mike analyzed spending disclosures and thousands of NRA grade sheets, and interviewed dozens of current and former state elected officials and former NRA leaders to explain the reason for a dramatic roll-back of gun restrictions: Allies of the gun lobby control a majority of state legislatures.
“Mike’s aggressive reporting reveals the depth of the NRA’s influence over state-level politics and the public safety consequences of the laws the gun lobby works to enact or defeat,” said Ben Hallman, The Trace’s deputy editor. “We are thrilled that his work is being recognized for such a distinguished honor.”
Mike’s fellow nominees in the national reporting category hail from the New York Times, The New Yorker, “Nightline,” and The Marshall Project. The panel tasked with selecting the winners includes Christiane Amanpour, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, and Politico co-founder John Harris. Mike, a founding staff member of The Trace, was previously a senior reporter at Vocativ and a fact checker at The New Yorker.
The Livingston Awards honors print, broadcast, and digital journalists under 35 and aims to “advance civic engagement around powerful storytelling.” Winners in the local, national, and international reporting categories will be announced by the University of Michigan on June 6.
About the Trace
The Trace is an independent, nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun violence crisis. Every year in America, a firearm is used in nearly 500,000 crimes, resulting in the deaths and injuries of more than 110,000 people. Meanwhile, the problem of gun violence has been compounded by another: the shortage of knowledge about the issue.
We believe that when an issue is shrouded by a knowledge gap, journalism can be a big part of the solution. As a nonprofit newsroom, The Trace is able to dedicate itself to in-depth reporting that doesn’t let up after the latest high-profile shooting leaves the front pages. Since our launch in June 2015, we have partnered with 25 national and local media organizations, including The Atlantic, Slate, New York Daily News, Politico Magazine, Huffington Post, Tampa Bay Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Guardian U.S.