Guns Win Big on Election Day

Most anti-gun candidate in modern history loses, NRA spending pays off

gun store
November 11, 2016

The 2016 election delivered a number of wins for gun rights activists across the country.

Though Donald Trump's presidential victory represents the greatest opportunity for policy changes that have widespread impact, there were many unexpected wins at the state and local levels. The National Rifle Association won in nearly every race where it invested money.

The NRA spent more than $30.3 million in the presidential race, up from just over $12 million in 2012. $19.7 million of that went to opposing Hillary Clinton and $10.6 million went to supporting Donald Trump, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission documents by the Center for Responsive Politics. The group invested another $20 million in six Senate races and won five of them.

Hillary Clinton's defeat comes after she staked out the most aggressive gun control positions for a major party candidate in modern memory.

"She has been more forceful on guns/gun lobby than any other person who ever seriously ran for president," one of Clinton's advisers wrote in an email posted by WikiLeaks in October. "Certain members of the dem caucus [sic] were freaking out about [her gun positions.]"

Audio first published in October 2015 by the Washington Free Beacon showed Clinton telling donors privately that she believed the Supreme Court was "wrong on the Second Amendment." When asked about her opposition to the court's landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision at the final presidential debate, Clinton claimed she was concerned about protecting toddlers from unsecured guns but did not reverse her position.

Just two weeks after audio of Clinton's comments on the Supreme Court was published, she endorsed an Australian-style mandatory gun buyback scheme at a public rally.

"Australia is a good example," she said in comments first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. "I think it would be worth considering doing it on the national level, if that could be arranged."

Clinton also backed an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and removing liability protections for gun companies throughout her campaign.

On the other side, Donald Trump received the NRA's endorsement after becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

"In Donald Trump we have a candidate, I would argue, that's the most forceful Republican nominee for president in the last 100 years when it comes to not only gun ownership but the lawful use of guns for self-defense," Chris Cox, head of the NRA's lobbying arm, told the Free Beacon in May. "He's been unapologetic. He's pointed out a very different path forward on guns than Hillary Clinton."

Donald Trump largely supported NRA positions on the campaign trail, but disagreed on a watch-list-based gun ban. He repeated his promise to defend the Second Amendment at nearly every one of his rallies throughout 2016.

State ballot initiatives were among the few bright spots for gun control activists. In addition to holding the retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's seat with another Democrat in Nevada, despite a $2.5 million NRA investment in the race, they passed ballot initiatives in Nevada, Washington, and California. However, a universal background check initiative in Maine failed despite polls suggesting it would win by a wide margin.

Leading members of the gun rights movement attributed the wins to Americans' support for the Second Amendment.

"Voters sent a loud and clear message that our gun rights are not for sale," Cox said in a statement. "Despite the unprecedented efforts by New York City billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the gun control lobby, the Second Amendment prevailed. In the face of threats against their constitutional freedoms, NRA members and Second Amendment supporters rallied to elect a pro-gun president. Trump’s victory repudiates the assertion by gun control advocates that the political calculus regarding the Second Amendment has changed."

Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb told the Free Beacon that gun voters turned out against Clinton and other gun control supporters.

"Hillary Clinton did not hit a glass ceiling," he said. "She hit a 'lead' ceiling. America's gun owners turned out to vote and made the Second Amendment great again."

"At the local and state level, candidates that supported gun rights did very much better than those who supported gun control," he added.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said gun owners "dodged a bullet" by defeating Clinton and electing Trump. He said the gun rights movement's focus will now be on ensuring a pro-gun agenda makes it into law.

"With the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate, we will be pushing for things Trump said he would support, such as national reciprocity, where concealed handgun permits will be honored in all 50 states, just like our drivers licenses," Van Cleave said.