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In Gun Lobby's Pocket

Thirty-two of the 34 senators who supported the NRA on each of four key gun control votes received money for their last election from the gun industry lobbying group.

And only two of the 38 senators who opposed the National Rifle Association on the same four votes received contributions from the group.

Campaign contributions from the NRA are proving to be an accurate barometer of how individual senators would vote on gun control.

It was a 51-50 vote to require background checks for firearms buyers at gun shows and pawn shops that clearly reflected the momentum toward tighter regulations in the aftermath of recent
school shootings. Only two of the 50 senators who supported that amendment received NRA money.

Ellen Miller, director of the advocacy group Public Campaign, decried the connection between NRA contributions and votes.

Â"There may be no better example than this one,Â" said Miller, whose group wants to change campaign finance laws. Â"You have the public clearly on one side, wanting strong gun control, and a resistant Congress in the pocket of the gun lobby.Â"

The NRA opposed efforts to add gun control provisions to the juvenile crime bill in the wake of school shootings in Colorado and Georgia. The bill went on to pass in the Senate.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. (AP)
But Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and chief lobbyist James Baker defended the votes, saying, Â"Everyone knows this won't stop the crisis in our schools.Â"

Â"The American people want existing gun laws enforced and their Second Amendment freedoms protected,Â" they said.

Still, the five senators who received the most money from the NRA between 1993 and 1998 all sided with the gun lobby as it tried to defeat several amendments, led by GOP Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has received $19,600 since 1993.

Another senator who supported the NRA down the line this week was Republican Slade Gorton of Washington, who has received $11,400 from the gun lobby since 1993. Last Saturday, while the bill was on the Senate floor, he held two fund-raisers in his home state featuring NRA President Charlton Heston.

Gorton told his supporters that Congress couldn't solve the problem of gun violence.

Â"I wish I could tell you the government could pass a law that can prevent this from happening,Â" Gorton said. Â"But the evil in Littleton is beyond the scope of the federal government.Â"

The NRA opposed two amendments by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to require background checks on all firearms purchases at gun shows. The earlier Lautenberg amendment failed, 51-47, but recast measure passed, 51-50, when Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote.

Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash. (AP)
The 50 senators who voted against the second Lautenberg amendment received an average of $7,377 from the NRA. Only two of the 50 senators supporting the provision - Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Mike DeWine of Ohio - received any NRA contributions. Conrad got $2,000; DeWine, $4,900.

Â"These are responsible checks to prevent guns from getting into the hands of felons, the mentally ill and kids,Â" Conrad said. Â"Frankly, the NRA has become extreme. They're out of step with mainstream America.Â"

Â"I feel that the requirement to follow the Brady gun-check law should apply to everyone at a gun show and that's what this amendment did,Â" said DeWine said. Â"It basically closed a loophole in current law; I did not find it to be an unreasonable requirement.Â"

Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., were the only two NRA supporters who did not receive any contributions from the organization. But the NRA did give $4,950 to Cochran's leadership political action committee.