Home » 7th Season: 2019-2020 » 2019-2020 v.09 » Campaign Finance Deregulation and the Rise of the NRA as a Political Power

Campaign Finance Deregulation and the Rise of the NRA as a Political Power

By Louis Lyons, VI Form

Campaign Finance Deregulation and the Rise of the NRA as a Political Power

Editor’s Note: This paper was completed as a part of the History Research Fellowship, a one-semester course available to sixth form students.

Children are led out of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, following the shooting.
Gavin Aronsen, Asawin Suebsaeng, and Deanna Pan, “What Happened in the Newtown School Shooting,” Mother Jones, December 14, 2012, accessed January 6, 2020

Twenty young children and six adults lay dead in a Connecticut schoolhouse. The culprit: a 20-year-old, heavily armed man wielding an AR-15, two semi automatic pistols, and a shotgun.

Eight years ago on December 14, Adam Lanza perpetrated the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was among the most deadly school massacres in American history. It shook the American public to its core, and many demanded action to curtail gun violence. American politicians, however, did little in response. Such is the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its ability to curtail the United States democratic process during the twenty first century.

Prior to Sandy Hook, gun control had been regarded as politically toxic for Democrats. However, immediately following the tragedy, legislators on both the state and federal levels promised action. President Obama pledged to do “anything in his power” to stop future mass shootings. He would later deem the shooting “the most difficult day of his presidency” and told his speech writers to “let the National Rifle Association (NRA) know we are coming after them.” The gun control movement seemed to be gaining momentum as support for the banning of semi automatic assault rifles jumped 11 points in public opinion polls, from 44 percent to 55 percent. Despite this apparent cry for regulation from the people, no major federal legislation passed and, perhaps even more surprisingly, 70 of the 109 gun-related state laws passed following Sandy Hook enhanced gun rights rather than impose restrictions. Democrats fought fiercely for universal background checks, and 78 percent of the public supported this push, but this was to no avail as the Republican-held Senate stopped the bill. A defeated President Obama emerged from the White House five months after the shooting to declare a “shameful day” in Washington. 

Unfortunately, this pattern holds true for much of the last two decades in America. Tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Parkland lead to public outcry for something to be done, but legislatures refuse to act. Although the figures on the pro-gun-control side constantly seem to be shift, there is one consistent player on the gun rights side: the NRA. The group has consistently beaten back efforts for stricter gun laws in the face of seemingly overwhelming public pressure and remained a vaunted, and sometimes feared, power in politics. Coinciding with the NRA’s rise to political power came a rollback of campaign finance legislation that allowed special interest groups and corporations to sink more and more resources into high-stakes political campaigns. Deregulation of campaign finance have had massive impacts on the current state of the United States gun debate and has heralded the rise of the NRA as a political power in Washington.


Louis Lyons is a VI form day student from Southborough, Massachusetts. His favorite subjects are US Government and History, and he enjoys wrestling and playing baseball.

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