Following a spate of deadly mass shootings, President Biden last week called on Congress to pass laws that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and expand background checks for firearms purchases, among other steps. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is working to bring a legislative package of gun control measures to the floor soon for a vote, though in the Senate, Republicans are expected to block a vote on it.
The gun rights industry, as categorized by the nonprofit OpenSecrets, hit record high spending on federal lobbying last year. Many of the lobbyists who are weighing in with congressional offices for the gun lobby are former Capitol Hill staffers. While much public attention has been on the gun lobby’s influence through years of campaign contributions and its political endorsements, another way the lobby exerts influence is through the camaraderie between former and current government employees.
Last year, the National Shooting Sport Foundation (NSSF) overtook the National Rifle Association (NRA) as the top spender on federal gun rights lobbying with $5 million. NSSF reported more than $1 million in spending in the first quarter of this year. The NSSF opposes regulations of online firearm sales, rejects a federal ban on assault weapons, slams “universal background checks,” and calls the “gun show loophole” a “myth.”
Among NSSF’s in-house lobbyists, two have a background in GOP Hill offices. Patrick Rothwell, NSSF’s managing director of government relations and federal affairs, was previously the chief of staff for the House Republican Policy Committee and for former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Penn.). Diane Cihota, the group’s director of government relations and federal affairs, was previously legislative director for Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who in 2011 had been named the NSSF’s Legislator of the Year, according to Legistorm.
Since 2018, NSSF has tapped William Hollier, a 30-year Hill veteran, as a lobbyist. Hollier worked for 11 years for Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), according to his LinkedIn profile, ending his stint in 2002 as his chief of staff. Hollier lobbies on issues like “Financial Discrimination of firearms indsustry” with his firm Hollier & Associates. Hollier’s firm also lobbies for Microsoft, Meta, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Several NRA lobbyists who joined in the group’s more than $4.9 million in federal lobbying spending last year previously worked on the Hill, including Jason Ouimet, executive director for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, who spoke recently at the group’s convention in Houston, Texas. Decades ago, Ouimet was a senior research analyst for the National Republican Senatorial Committee before becoming legislative assistant to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), according to OpenSecrets.
The NRA also uses a pair at S-3 Group, which describes itself as a “boutique government relations and public affairs consultancy,” to lobby on issues of firearms regulations. The firm’s principal Martin Delgado was previously a congressional clerk and staff director for the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee, and partner John Scofield was communications director for the House Appropriations Committee from 2000-2006 and a press secretary for former Rep. Frank LoBiondo (D-N.J.) before becoming a principal at the lobbying and PR firm the Podesta Group, which shuttered in 2017.
The group Gun Owners of America (GOA), which bills itself as “The only no compromise gun lobby in Washington,” spent nearly $2.8 million on federal lobbying last year, touching on scores of House and Senate bills. Their lobbying report includes a mention of H.R. 8, passed by the House in March 2021 by a vote of 227-203. The bill would prohibit firearm transfers without sellers first conducting a background check through a party such as a licensed gun dealer.
GOA was founded by Larry Pratt, its executive director for 40 years, who the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a gun rights extremist and a pivotal figure in the right-wing militia movement. Pratt attended a 1992 meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, recorded on cassette tapes, that also included right-wing Christian fundamentalists and leaders of neo-Nazi groups. The nonprofit English First, which says its mission is to amend the Constitution to make English the official language, reports to the IRS that it is a related organization. In 2020, Larry’s son Erich Pratt, senior vice president of GOA and one of its lobbyists, received about $173,000 in compensation, according to the group’s Form 990. Another GOA lobbyist, executive vice president John Velleco, was previously legislative director for former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who in 2018 was convicted of felonies including fraud and money laundering.
The Citizens Committee For The Right To Keep & Bear Arms, a group based in Bellevue, Washington, spent nearly $1 million on federal lobbying last year, in part using the boutique firm of lobbyist Mark Barnes, a former counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services and chief counsel to Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
One of Capitol Hill’s top lobbying firms, Akin Gump, has lobbied for firearms company Sig Sauer since registering to represent the company in November 2020. Akin Gump has reported $540,000 in lobbying for Sig Sauer on issues like international firearms sales. Lobbyist and partner Ed Pagano served in the Obama administration and worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and senior advisor Ryan Thompson was formerly the chief of staff and press secretary for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla). Akin Gump’s hundreds of lobbying clients include CEO group the Business Roundtable, Liberty Mutual, Anheuser-Busch, and Meta.
Last year, Patrick Parsons, the chief of staff to Freedom Caucus member Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), resigned after only nine months in his position. In January, Parsons registered to lobby with the group American Firearms Association (AFA), and recently, as its executive vice president, has made vociferous videos on social media denouncing Republicans who might support a “red flag” law. Last week, AFA blasted an alert to its members opposing Nadler’s bill and has spent $10,000 so far this year lobbying on issues including “H.R. 6248, the Stand Your Ground Act of 2021.”
The firearms accessory company NST Global, whose products are marketed as SB Tactical, uses boutique firm Alpha Strategies. Lobbyist and principal Adnan Jalil touts his Hill experience with former Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and his closeness “with the entire Donald J. Trump, Inc., organization from day 1 of the Trump Presidential campaign.”
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