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How much has the NRA spent on Missouri's Senators?

A photo collage of Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley speaking to reporters.
Carolina Hidalgo
Associated Press via KCUR
Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley have received nearly $6 million in contributions from the National Rifle Association over their careers in Congress.

After a mass shooting resulted in the deaths of 19 children and 2 teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, the political role and influence of gun-rights lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association are once again coming under scrutiny.

While Republican lawmakers published statements and social media posts addressing the shooting, critics were quick to point out the tight relationships these lawmakers have held with the NRA.

The NRA has contributed millions of dollars to Missouri's senators. Sen. Roy Blunt is the fourth-largest NRA benefactor in Congress, with more than $4.5 million in help since 1996, and Sen. Josh Hawley is the 12th, approaching $1.4 million in contributions in just four years.

But, as University of Kansas political science professor Don Haider-Markel explains, largess isn’t the only thing driving Republicans’ strict adherence to NRA-backed gun policies.

Haider-Markel says that an expansive view of the Second Amendment has become bedrock Republican orthodoxy, and deeply ingrained in the political identities of the party’s most adamant activists.

“This has become one of the top three issues in the Republican party. And if you want to be a Republican in Kansas or Missouri or virtually anywhere else, you have to toe the line on this issue,” said Haider-Markel. “And it’s not just because the NRA might not help you out in the next campaign, it’s because it’s what your constituents want.”

And those constituents can be very adamant. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Republicans and people who lean Republican live in homes with guns.

Haider-Markel says gun owners are more politically active than non-gun owners, so their interests are more regularly represented among elected officials.

“They’re more likely to vote, they’re more likely to contact public officials, and more likely to take part in politics through social media, attending protests and things like that,” he says. “Since gun ownership is part of their social identity, any attack on that is essentially an attack on themselves.”

Haider-Markel says Republicans who stray from gun rights orthodoxy can expect savage attacks from grassroots groups, so discipline in opposing gun regulations is imposed from multiple levels.

Here’s a breakdown of how Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley reacted to the Texas school shooting, and where they stand with the NRA.

KCUR sourced its information on NRA expenditures from the nonprofit OpenSecrets, which tracked career totals going back to 1989. The NRA’s support includes not just direct contributions from the NRA political action committee and its employees, but also independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates, and spending for or against a candidate’s opponent.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) speaks to the media on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, at the site of the future National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Roy Blunt speaks to the media on Oct. 1, 2021, at the site of the future National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters in St. Louis.

Sen. Roy Blunt

Longtime Sen. Roy Blunt, who is retiring this year, says he’s open to the adoption of red flag laws. Such measures keep guns out of the hands of people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“No family should ever have to suffer the loss of a child to a horrific act of violence,” Blunt said. “As we learn more about the facts in this case, I’m open to looking at what we can do, in a bipartisan way, to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring.”

Blunt also noted his support of legislation to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and expansion of the Excellence in Mental Health Program.

“We need to continue working to ensure anyone who has a mental or behavioral health issue can get the treatment they need, when they need it,” Blunt said.

Blunt is one of the top recipients in the Senate of money from the National Rifle Association. According to OpenSecrets, Blunt has accepted $4,555,722 in donations from the NRA since his career began in 1996.

Blunt says he will not be attending the NRA’s convention this weekend in Texas.

Sen. Josh Hawley

Missouri Attorney General and senatorial candidate Josh Hawley speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Chesterfield on Oct. 29, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Josh Hawley speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Chesterfield on Oct. 29, 2018.

Missouri’s junior senator, Josh Hawley, called the loss of life in Texas “heartbreaking,” and offered his prayers.

“As a public official, I believe the time has come to increase penalties for violent crimes and crimes committed with firearms,” Hawley said in an emailed statement. “We must also fully fund our police and local law enforcement and give them the resources they need to keep our kids safe.”

A lawsuit filed last year by the gun control group led by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords alleges the NRA illegally funneled nearly a million dollars to Hawley’s campaign.

The NRA has contributed $1,391,548 to Hawley since his first race in 2018, according to Open Secrets.

Hawley says he will not be attending the NRA convention this weekend.

Celisa Calacal is a government and politics reporter at KCUR in Kansas City.
Frank Morris is a national correspondent for NPR based at KCUR in Kansas City.
Jodi Fortino