In the first two quarters of 2017, the National Rifle Association has already spent more on lobbying than it did in all of last year.
The gun group has spent $3.2 million from January 1 to June 30 trying to advance its policy agenda, according to an analysis of data provided by Open Secrets, a campaign finance and lobbying watchdog. In 2016, the group spent $3.18 million pleading its case to legislators and federal agencies.
The NRA front-loaded its 2017 lobbying as a new, friendly administration took power in the White House and Republicans resumed their majorities on Capitol Hill. In the first quarter of 2017, the group spent $2.3 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies. By the second quarter, that figure dropped to $920,000, a more typical sum for the organization.
Organizations that actively lobby lawmakers are required to file quarterly lobbying reports with the Clerk of the House Of Representatives and Senate’s Office of Public Records. The reports list the individual bills in which groups have taken an active interest, though the forms do not break out how much was spent on a particular piece of legislation.
Filings show that the NRA has lobbied 81 pieces of legislation this year. Among that list, three bills have featured most prominently in the gun group’s agenda.
- Hearing Protection Act of 2017: Silencers are increasingly popular firearms accessories, but they have been subject to National Firearms Act regulations since the 1930s. Owners must register the devices, a process that can take months, and pay a $200 fee. This bill would remove those regulations.
- Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act: The NRA’s holy grail. This bill would require states to recognize all other state’s concealed-carry licenses, making permits valid anywhere their holders choose to exercise them. Currently, a number of mostly Democratic-controlled states decline to recognize concealed gun licenses from states with lower standards for training and eligibility.
- A resolution disapproving of the inclusion of Social Security Administration mental health records in the federal background check system: The Obama administration directed the SSA to provide the Federal Bureau of Investigation with records of individuals unable to manage their own finances, which would qualify them as “adjudicated mental defective,” and thus prohibited from buying guns. The resolution was signed by President Donald Trump on February 28.
The chaos of Washington in the Trump era has so far stymied the NRA’s ability to deliver on some of its most sought-after goals. The proposal to deregulate gun silencers is getting its first hearing in the House on September 12 as part of the SHARE Act, a larger package that now includes the silencer provision. The Reciprocity Act has languished as a stand-alone bill since it was introduced in January.
Lacking significant Congressional legislative victories, the NRA has also tried to ply the federal bureaucracy. The group has filed reports about lobbying at the Department of Agriculture; the Department of the Interior; the Department of Justice; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the Bureau of Land Management; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Forest Service; and the National Park Service.
In contrast to Congressional lobbying disclosures, reports on efforts to persuade agencies in the executive branch do not specify the particular issues addressed.
Several federal agencies have had a more gun-friendly tilt under the Trump administration. On his first day in office, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rescinded an Obama-era ban on using lead ammunition to hunt in wildlife refuges. The Department of Justice shut down a financial crimes probe called Operation Choke Point that the NRA claimed unfairly targeted gun dealers. The ATF has invited silencer companies to work with the agency to streamline the process for applying for a National Firearms Act permit.