OPED: From NRA funding to gun-control advocacy

Dan Morain
Tribune News Service

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson of California is a gun owner, hunter, and Vietnam veteran, and he recalls how in simpler times, the NRA made its name by teaching kids about gun safety. The Napa Valley Democrat is, in short, ideally cast to lead congressional Democrats' efforts to push for gun control measures, a role he fully embraced after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

So it was noteworthy when, in reporting a recent editorial, we saw that Thompson had accepted $50,379 from gun rights advocates during his time in Congress.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics compiled the total based on campaign finance data, and, when asked, happily provided back-up information. Sure enough, its numbers are solid; they always are.

That back-up information also tells an evolving story.

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The National Rifle Association gave Thompson $4,000 early in his congressional career, but none since 2005, and he donated that sum to charities. Even if he were to ask, the NRA wouldn't give him a nickel.

"You have to be 100 percent for them," he said.

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The Safari Club International, a hunting and gun rights advocacy group, gave Thompson $32,429 over the years, but none since January 2013, shortly after Sandy Hook. In February 2013, Thompson announced House Democrats' gun safety plan.

"I didn't think anything could stop us. I was sadly disappointed," he said in an interview.

What about now, after the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and those children are taking their pain and their pleas to politicians?

Although it seems unlikely the Republican-controlled House will take significant action, demographics are not in gun owners' favor. A mere 3 percent of the population buys guns, Thompson said, and young people are far more willing to support limiting access to firearms.

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The NRA used to make a point of teaching gun safety to kids. That helped recruit younger members. As Thompson sees it, the NRA sees its future in corporate sponsors.

When it does seem to bend ever so slightly, the more strident Gun Owners of America tries to poach members. Over time, this will hurt gun rights advocates, but probably not this year, not yet.

— Dan Morain wrote this for the Sacramento Bee.