Gun Lobbies and Gun Control: Senate Voting Patterns on the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban

Article excerpt


This paper uses an econometric model to analyze the political and economic factors affecting the Senate voting patterns on the 1993 Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. Results of a logit estimation procedure support the hypothesis that the political activities and presence of the National Rifle Association (measured as relative campaign contributions and membership) had a significant impact on the voting patterns by Senators on both bills.


During his campaign for reelection in the 1996 presidential race, President Bill Clinton pressed the need for campaign finance reform. The presumption was that private interest money was having an undue influence on the formation of public policy. The belief that special interest groups affect policy is, in fact, an old one. In "The Federalist No. 10," James Madison [1787] wrote, "Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people." [1]

Contemporary academic researchers have explored the impact of lobby groups and special interest money on the formation of various policies [Kau and Rubin, 1978, 1979; Kalt and Zupan, 1984; Kahane, 1996]. This paper continues this line of research by analyzing the political and economic forces that shaped the Senate voting patterns on two public policies aimed at gun control: the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. Both of these bills, which were passed in 1993, were subject to great debate. The strongest opponent to their passage was the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has a reputation as a strong political lobby group in Washington, DC.

To test the notion that the NRA had significant influence on the voting pattern of senators on these two bills, this paper uses an econometric model to explain the voting behavior of legislators as a function of a variety of political-economic forces. The econometric results show that, controlling for other factors, the greater the political contributions by the NRA, the more likely a senator voted in the direction favoring the NRA on both votes.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. The second section provides background information for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. The third section describes the econometric model used to explain the Senate voting patterns on the two bills. The fourth section contains the empirical results for the model, and the fifth section presents concluding remarks.


The Brady Bill

A 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life left the former White House press secretary, James S. Brady, permanently disabled. Following this tragedy, Brady's wife, Sarah, spearheaded an effort to enact legislation which became known as the Brady Bill. After seven years of heated debate, the Brady Bill was passed by the Senate (vote 394 HR-1025) on November 20, 1993 by a 63-36 vote. The bill implemented a mandatory five-business-day waiting period for purchasing handguns, allowing local law officials to conduct background checks of the buyer. [2] Much of the debate preceding the passage of the Brady Bill centered around the constitutionality of the proposed law and the effectiveness of gun control laws in reducing violent crimes and deaths attributed to gun usage. [3] The most active opponent to the bill was clearly the NRA. Indeed, at the September 30, 1993 hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice, the legislative counsel for the Institute of Legislative Action (ILA) of the NRA, Richard Gardiner, stated unequivocally that "the NRA remains adamantly opposed to any federally imposed waiting period prior to the sale of a handgun" [House of Representatives (HR), 1994].

The bill's strongest supporter was obviously Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) whose chairperson, Sarah Brady, notes, "The Brady Bill has been considered and debated now for more than 6 years and 6 months. …