The firearms industry’s lobbying group is spending about $250,000 on ads directed at lawmakers as the gun debate intensifies on Capitol Hill, according to an official with the group. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade group that represents the gun industry, has started running ads in Washington, according to an NSSF official. It is their first major ad buy in years–a sign of the pressure lawmakers face to change America’s gun laws. Its goal, according to the NSSF official, is to highlight the industry’s stance on background checks and ensure it participates in federal talks on gun safety.
The ads, which will run through the end of this month, include a mix of digital, print, and radio spots. They will appear in publications like Roll Call, The Washington Post, WTOP, and Politico, according to the official. The buy is designed to reach members of Congress and staff who will participate in the coming gun debate.
“We’re doing this quarter-million-dollar ad campaign to make sure we are a part of the conversation and policymakers know that the gun industry has been leading on this issue for some time,” an NSSF official told The Daily Beast. “We’re the ones who conceived of the instant background check system and are doing an average 38,000 of them every single day.”
The gun group will argue that nobody cares more than firearms manufacturers about keeping their products out of the wrong hands. It’s an argument that is likely to draw pointed criticism.
It’s been years since the NSSF launched an expensive campaign to shape the conversation about guns. In 2013, they funded a grassroots effort to oppose legislation from Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin that would have expanded background checks (the bill did not become law). But besides spending to support candidates, they’ve been publicly quiet since then.
The ad buy highlights the fact that supporters of gun rights take seriously the upcoming congressional debate on firearms. Last week, The Daily Beast obtained a letter from a top NRA official saying the group moved its scheduled mid-September board meeting from Alaska to northern Virginia so its team could be close at hand during Congressional talks on guns. The letter predicted “a fight of historic proportions.”
But besides that internal communication and a handful of on-the-record statements for news stories, the NRA appears thus far to be hesitant about putting its advertising money where its mouth is. A spokesperson for the group did not respond to queries about current ad spending, and there has not been public reporting about any ongoing ad buys focused on policymakers.
Igor Volsky—the executive director of Guns Down America, which backs stricter firearms laws—said the ad buy is an acknowledgment by the gun industry of the momentum behind supporters of gun control. Earlier this week, Walmart announced it will stop selling ammunition for handguns and short-barrel rifles, and that it will ask customers to stop openly carrying guns in stores. The NRA called the move “shameful,” and the NSSF said it was “disappointed” with the move. Volsky’s group, meanwhile, cheered it as a major victory.
“The NRA and all of their allies in this area are frankly looking at these tea leaves and understand that there’s a real possibility that we might move the ball on this issue,” he told The Daily Beast of the NSSF ad buy. “And so this is an attempt by them to influence a political conversation that they’re rapidly losing.”
The NSSF’s message will likely draw criticism from advocates of tighter gun laws. The ads will say that the gun industry recommended having a national instant background check system, now known as NICS. And it will highlight the lobby group’s advocacy for the “Fix NICS Act” that passed in 2017.
Gun control advocates, meanwhile, are likely to note that the NRA—generally allied with the firearms manufacturers’ lobby—sued over NICS, arguing Congress did not have the power to require state and local law enforcement officials to participate in background checks.
After a series of deadly mass shootings, some Republican lawmakers and the president have expressed vague support for legislation designed to reduce gun violence. But the president has vacillated on the issue. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls what bills the Senate votes on, has suggested he will only bring legislation to a vote if he knows Trump will sign it.
The NRA, meanwhile, faces a blizzard of internal turmoil that is sapping its funds. The group is suing its former ad firm in multiple jurisdictions, and its estranged ex-president estimated several months ago that it was paying its lawyers upwards of $100,000 per day.
The recent spate of mass shootings—including two major shootings in two days in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, as well as a shooting spree in Odessa, Texas—has generated concern in the Department of Homeland Security. The huge department has scrambled to figure out what it can do about domestic terrorism, as national security officials see it as an urgent and growing threat.