Gun violence prevention groups launched a multi-million dollar campaign to elect pro-gun control candidates across the country during this year’s midterms. Those efforts are now associated with key wins that helped Democrats retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives and could shape gun policy in the coming session.
Analysis of Everytown for Gun Safety’s 2018 endorsements by Guns & America shows that 81 percent — or 46 — of the 57 candidates for U.S. House endorsed by Everytown this year won their respective races.
By comparison, Democrats won 53 percent — or 225 — of the races decided so far in the U.S. House.
Just eight of the candidates Everytown endorsed in 2018 lost Tuesday. In three cases — the Texas 23rd, New Jersey 3rd and California 45th — the races have yet to be called.
In a press release sent early Wednesday morning, Everytown said that it spent $30 million this election cycle “on targeted contributions, independent expenditures and voter motivation and mobilization.” The group says it spent nearly $10 million on competitive House races.
Giffords PAC, the political arm of the gun safety group started by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, reports that it spent $7 million on an “aggressive independent expenditure campaign” targeting suburban battleground congressional districts.
On the other side, the National Rifle Association spent around $9 million this cycle on congressional races — both the U.S. House and Senate. The NRA spent just over $2 million on U.S. House races, according to FCC filings gathered by Center for Responsive Politics.
According to data compiled by The Trace, out of the six races where Everytown and Giffords spent the most, five of the candidates — all Democrats — won their respective races.
Two of those races are Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.
After losing her son to gun violence, Lucy McBath takes Georgia 6th
Congresswoman-elect Lucy McBath, seen here in a campaign photo released in April.
After a tight race that lasted past election night and into Thursday, suburban Atlanta’s 6th Congressional District now has a new Democratic congresswoman, Lucy McBath. Her top issue? Gun safety.
According to The Trace, Giffords and Everytown spent over $4 million to help elect McBath who ran on a platform of gun safety measures including universal background checks and “red flag” laws. Gun control activists and gun violence survivors knocked on doors and called voters for McBath.
According to McBath, her path to Washington started six years ago.
“On November 23, 2012, I got the call no parent should ever ever have to get,” Lucy McBath told supporters Tuesday. “And I learned that my son had been murdered in Jacksonville, Florida.”
The death of her 17-year-old son Jordan Davis gained national attention when he was shot at a gas station over a disagreement about loud music with the shooter, Michael Dunn. Dunn was eventually convicted of first-degree murder in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison.
“After Parkland, I was compelled to enter this race for Congress to provide leadership that would be about the business of putting lives over profit,” said McBath.
Beth Freeman with Moms Demand Action at a campaign event for Lucy McBath.
Lisa Hagen / WABE
And this week, her campaign flipped the district once held by Newt Gingrich and vacated by the nomination of former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.
After Price’s nomination, Republican Karen Handel won the seat in a 2017 special election after a heated race against challenger Jon Ossoff, who had raised nearly $30 million.
Handel has an A rating from the NRA and a fairly traditional Republican stance on gun rights.
“The problem for that particular district is it’s not the kind of district where gun rights, NRA-type issues [are] particularly prevalent,” Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University said. “I mean it’s a suburban district, a lot of college-educated voters.”
After Parkland, gun safety advocates rallied around McBath. In the end, Swint says he thinks gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gave her a huge push in turnout.
Jason Crow, Gabby Giffords and the Colorado 6th
Jason Crow, center, addresses supporters at a campaign rally in Aurora, CO.
Leigh Paterson / KUNC
Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, a diverse, suburban area east of Denver, is home to immigrants from all over the world, and to a growing number of registered Democrats. On Tuesday night, the district voted to send a Democrat to Washington, a move that helped flip control of the U.S. House.
Jason Crow, a 39-year-old lawyer, combat veteran and vocal advocate for gun control, unseated five-term incumbent Mike Coffman, a Republican who has been called “bulletproof” in past elections. Although the district went for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, Coffman had previously managed to hang onto his seat despite facing strong Democratic challengers.
According to an analysis by The Trace, spending by gun control groups totaled $2.7 million in the Colorado 6th alone. By comparison, the NRA spent just $10,594 in favor of Republican Mike Coffman.
Crow wasn’t a single issue candidate but guns came up at almost every single one of his campaign events.
Volunteers with the gun control group, Moms Demand Action, wait for candidate Jason Crow to speak at a campaign rally.
Leigh Paterson / KUNC
Former Rep.Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011, campaigned for Crow at a gun control rally in September alongside her husband, former astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly. Crow sent out mailers, one taking on the NRA, and did a TV ad in which he highlighted his military experience:
“I look at the gun violence crisis and how it has torn apart so many families. Enough is enough,”Crow said in the ad. “These are the weapons I needed when I was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and now they’re tearing our communities apart.”
On election night, that message made an impact.
“He’s ready to bring common sense gun legislation to Colorado and to the United States. So that’s a huge reason we support Jason,” Jenny Guenther, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, said at Crow’s watch party in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
Another attendee, Katrice Traylor, a contractor for Crow’s campaign, noted that gun violence is an issue that has touched this community in the past. The Colorado 6th is home to the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting. Columbine High School in Littleton is just outside the district.
“We want to make sure that our children are safe,” Traylor said Tuesday night, the music and the crowd loud behind her. “We want to make sure that when we go out in public to events like this— this is a great event for some crazy person to show up at, right? If they wanted to show up right now, what would we do to protect ourselves?”
Wednesday night, a gunman opened fire at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, killing 12 people.
Newly-elected Jason Crow responded on Twitter:
“Mass shootings like the horror in Thousand Oaks, CA last night are more than just tragedies. They’re tests of our national resolve,” Crow said in a tweet Thursday. “These shootings ask every American a very specific question: Are we content to live like this? Or are we brave enough to demand action?”
The same day her race was called, Georgia Congresswoman-elect Lucy McBath also respond to the shooting on Twitter in a series of tweets.
“It is unfortunately not surprising that on the same day I officially became a Congresswoman-elect,” McBath said in her tweet, “other families in this country are receiving the same exact call that I did six years ago when I learned my son had been murdered.”
Federal gun policy
That gun groups spent millions does not mean that gun issues alone motivated people to go to the polls in certain districts to vote for certain candidates.
According to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, leading up to the midterms, 60 percent of voters polled said gun policy was “very important” in deciding which congressional candidate to vote for. But when asked to choose one issue that is the “most important,” gun policy dropped to 15 percent.
Exit polls show similar thinking.
Early results from an NBC News exit poll indicate that 60 percent of voters polled support stricter gun control policies. At the same time, gun control is not a top issue for most voters. Just one in ten respondents named it as the most important issue facing the country.
While the majority of voters may not have gone to the polls on gun issues alone, districts did vote to send dozens of pro-gun control candidates to Washington, each of whom will have the ability to support legislation regulating firearms.
Immediately following the midterm election, Everytown For Gun Safety released a plan to push for several gun control issues, leveraging the success of the candidates they supported in the House.
Update 11/12/2018 12:31 p.m. story was updated to include the results of the California 48th among races won by Evertown for Gun Safety-endorsed candidates.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.