Democrats Scarce as NRA Confab Kicks Off


A woman practices shooting a hand gun at an National Rifle Association virtual shooting booth during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. The annual conference is a meeting of politically conservatives Americans. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKIBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP - Getty Images

This weekend, at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, gun aficionados will gather to check out the latest in firearm technology, rub elbows with famous sportsmen, and hear from a parade of political speakers about Second Amendment rights.

Those speakers? All but one are Republican.

Confirmed speakers at Friday’s “leadership forum” for the NRA include possible presidential candidates Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Also set to speak are Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will have to fight off a primary challenge this May before facing a neck-and-neck general election race in Kentucky.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (R) holds a gun given to him by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 6, 2014. McConnell is one of many Republicans planning to address the National Rifle Association at its annual meeting on Friday. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP - Getty Images

The lone Democrat slated to address the organization is Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County. Clarke has won headlines for ads that have called guns a “great equalizer” and suggested that “simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option.”

While the slate of speakers at NRA events has always dominated by conservatives – many seeking the group's support for a bid for higher office – it hasn’t always been free of Democrats elected to federal office.

In 2011, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin spoke to the NRA’s “Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum,” even plugging the famed political ad depicting him shooting a cap-and-trade bill with a rifle. (Manchin later earned the ire of the organization for working on background check legislation.)

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson submitted a video for presentation at an annual meeting in 2007, during his failed presidential run. The same year, powerful Democrat Rep. John Dingell was praised as a “longtime visionary statesman” as he was introduced to the crowd. Now-retired Oklahoma Democrat Rep. Dan Boren was also regular presence at annual NRA events.

The dwindling of Democratic speakers is reflected in the powerful gun lobby’s political giving as well, which has fluctuated over the last two decades.

So far this cycle, the organization has donated funds to just nine House Democrats and no Senate Democrats (a total of $12,000) compared to contributions totaling almost $240,000 to 151 Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s just four percent to the president’s party.

But as recently as the 2010 midterms, NRA giving to Democrats totaled almost 30 percent of its donations for the cycle.

And two decades earlier, the NRA’s giving was even more distributed among the parties. In 1992, 98 Democrats got a boost from the organization, compared to 120 Republicans; 37 percent of the $1.7 million it shelled out went to Democrats.

Gun politics has also changed dramatically over the past 20 years.

According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Democrats who say that gun rights are more important than controlling gun ownership remained fairly constant since 1994 to 2013, at about 25 percent.

But in the GOP, 75 percent of Republicans now say that protecting the right of Americans to own guns is more important than controlling ownership. That’s up from just 45 percent in 1994.