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Gun Group's Rhetoric Signals Tough Road for Legislation

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
As Lieberman and other members of Congress begin a new conversation about gun violence, groups such as Gun Owners of America could make it harder to move legislation.

The group operates on a slim budget of just less than $2 million compared with the NRA’s $71 million in 2010, according to the most recent tax filings available. Still, it is widely seen as a major player in the debate over firearms on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has praised the group as “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington” — and it frequently outspends the NRA on lobbying activities.

Hammond identified Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and departing Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., as among the organization’s biggest supporters in the Senate.

He said the group is already working with Rep.-elect Steve Stockman, R-Texas, to introduce legislation early next year that would repeal gun-free school zones. Stockman was one of a handful of Republican lawmakers who benefited from the group’s largesse this election cycle. The GOA put more than $23,000 behind Stockman, a no-holds-barred conservative member of the 1994 freshman class who is returning after a 15-year hiatus.

The NRA spent almost $18 million through its political action committee and the affiliated Institute for Legislative Action trying to influence congressional elections this cycle. The GOA invested only $89,000 in a handful of races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, preferring instead to exert pressure under the Capitol Dome. The group spent almost $900,000 from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 fighting dozens of gun control measures, federal records show.

The GOA often finds itself clashing with its more moderate counterpart. After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the NRA backed a compromise package of gun control measures. The GOA spent more than $3 million every year from 1999 to 2002 to successfully oppose it.

Since then, the GOA’s lobbying expenditures have dropped considerably, as legislative efforts to curb gun use fizzled. But Hammond pledged an uptick to fight a slew of proposals expected in the beginning of the 113th Congress.

At least one House Republican took to the airwaves Sunday to echo the group’s response to the Connecticut shooting. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, argued that the elementary school principal who tried to stop the massacre would have been more successful if she had been armed.

“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids,” Gohmert said.

The gun-rights group argues that gun-free zones leave citizens vulnerable to attacks without the ability to defend themselves in kind.

After a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 more at a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July, the group said congressional Democrats were partly to blame for the massacre. It also praised George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who ignited a national controversy months earlier when he fatally shot an unarmed teenager he considered suspicious.

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