Gun Control Advocates Are Planning To Target Three Vulnerable Pro-Gun Senators

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2016, to unveil a new gun legislation proposal. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2016, to unveil a new gun legislation proposal. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

After a 15-hour filibuster in the Senate and a 25-hour sit-in in the House will likely fail to produce meaningful gun reform after the Orlando shooting, gun control advocates are looking ahead to their next battle: the November election.

Specifically, Everytown for Gun Safety — a group that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped form to match the National Rifle Association’s political influence — has set its sights and its resources on six key senators who have been resistant to what they call commonsense gun safety legislation. Press Secretary Lizzie Ulmer told ThinkProgress the group with be targeting three vulnerable members of Congress up for reelection this year — Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

“These are people who have consistently blocked efforts to close loopholes in our laws that keep guns in the hands of dangerous people or they have tried to tout a record that they supported background checks on all guns, when they haven’t,” Ulmer said.

The group has already begun its spending against Ayotte, considered one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this fall. On Wednesday, it ran a full page ad in the state’s Union Leader in addition to taking over the ads on the homepage of the newspaper’s website.

Part of the full-page ad Everytown placed in the New Hampshire Union Leader this week.
Part of the full-page ad Everytown placed in the New Hampshire Union Leader this week.

“If you look at Kelly Ayotte, she is going to try to claim that she did support background checks on all gun sales, but she supported the decoy legislation that is supported by the NRA,” Ulmer said. “These people consistently have the opportunity to do the right thing, and they do not.”


Ulmer said Everytown may be running a similar ad campaign against Rubio, who recently announced he’ll be running for reelection in Florida. Rubio has claimed that the Orlando shooting partly inspired him to stay in the Senate, but he voted this month against measures to expand background checks and prevent people on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms.

“This is someone who says he’s tough on terrorism, yet he supports the gun lobby’s position on guns for suspected terrorists on the watch list,” Shannon Watts, founder of Everytown campaign Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told ThinkProgress. “A lot of that is rhetoric, and he should have to answer for that.”

While the NRA announced this week that it’s spending at least $2 million on an anti-Hillary Clinton, pro-Donald Trump Benghazi-themed ad, Ulmer said that Everytown cannot yet estimate how much money it’ll put up for the 2016 election.

But Everytown noted that the way it chooses to spend its money will always be different from the NRA, which has far more resources to work with because it charges people a membership fee.

“Because we have less resources to work with, we’re incredibly strategic and thoughtful about who we support and who we don’t and how that will impact not just the elections but gun laws that can be created and passed in the future,” Watts said. “When we invest, when we target a lawmaker, we have been very effective in getting them to either change their mind or to lose their job or to get the job.”


Despite having far fewer resources than the NRA, Everytown has still been able to dedicate large sums of money to both pushing pro-gun lawmakers out of office and shaming and discrediting current members of Congress who have voted against gun safety measures. In 2013, the year the Senate failed to pass legislation to expand background checks after Sandy Hook, Everytown predecessor Mayors Against Illegal Guns launched a $400,000 ad blitz accusing Ayotte of deceiving constituents on her vote on background checks. Before that ad, the group had spent at least $650,000 attacking Ayotte.

While the NRA’s political spending has historically vastly outweighed spending from gun control advocates — in the 2012 presidential election, gun rights interest groups including the NRA spent $3.13 million to gun control interest groups $4,036 — the tide has begun to shift in recent years. Major mass shootings including Sandy Hook have propelled Everytown and its predecessor groups to organize and to throw money into both campaigns and efforts to shame politicians.

After 20 first-graders were killed in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, Bloomberg began bankrolling a $12 million national advertising campaign focusing on the senators he believed could be persuaded to support federal gun control regulations. The ads in 13 states were not enough to convince the Senate to pass the post-Newtown background check legislation, which ultimately failed. But the effort did succeed in tipping the financial balance away from the NRA.

“The NRA has just had this field to itself,” Bloomberg said at the time. “It’s the only one that’s been speaking out. It’s time for another voice.”

That voice has only grown since 2013. During the 2014 midterm election, Everytown’s political arm surveyed all federal candidates on gun issues to determine how it was going to allot its resources. The group ended up spending $386,922 both in favor of candidates for Congress who supported gun control — six Democrats and three Republicans — and against Republicans who blocked reform.

This election cycle, the group is likely to spend far more, both because it’s a presidential election year with several pro-gun Senate candidates on the line, and because of growing momentum for legislation after Orlando. The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history not own drew quick legislative action from Democratic members of Congress but also created momentum among voters.


“We’re trying to harness the outpouring of energy from the American people right now in a way that is strategic and helps further move the needle on this issue that has Americans pretty fed up,” Ulmer said.

In addition to the three senators up for reelection, Everytown will also be targeting three other senators who are safe this year but who the group wants to shame for voting the wrong way on gun-related legislation. Those lawmakers include Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).