NRA Donations Spiked After Parkland — But That Doesn't Mean They're Winning

by Priscilla Totiyapungprasert
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Donations to the the National Rifle Association skyrocketed after the Parkland mass shooting, according to data collected by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School happened on Valentine's Day, and in the two weeks directly after the Parkland, NRA donations more than doubled compared to the two weeks before the shooting. While that may seem like a worrisome trend for gun control advocates, it doesn't mean that the swell of activism for reform is all for nothing.

It's important to remember two things. One, the spike in donations is not necessarily a direct response to the school shooting; and two, if the goal of the Parkland students is to make a difference in the conversation around gun laws, then they already have.

First let's start with the NRA money. CNN reported that the NRA collected almost $248,000 in individual contributions in January, citing Federal Election Commission reports; in February, FEC reports show the NRA collected more than $779,000. Taking a deeper dive, the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending, found that the number of people who contributed $200 or more to the NRA's National Political Victory Fund increased by nearly 500 percent in the seven days after the Parkland shooting compared to seven days before.

Keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation here. It's still March, and we'll have to wait to see if donations to the organization increase or drop in the long run. It's unclear exactly why donations to the NRA skyrocketed in February, but it could possibly be a combination of aggressive NRA outreach and the fear of stricter gun control. In the wake of the school shooting, Parkland survivors began issuing highly publicized calls for stricter gun control laws. Days later, President Trump also expressed his support for strengthening background checks (he'd later backtrack on that).

Pressure on the NRA and its sphere of influence began mounting immediately after the shooting. Stoneman Douglas students and faculty had just experienced a shooting rampage that left 17 of their peers dead and more than a dozen others injured. "Thoughts and prayers" didn't seem like enough, as the group of survivors wanted to see concrete policy changes. The youth-led Never Again movement was meant to shake up the conversation about guns in America and get lawmakers' attention. In that regard, it's already succeeding — no matter how much money is flowing into the NRA (or the campaigns of NRA-backed politicians).

So far, Parkland student activists have attended gun control rallies and given television interviews. They participated in a CNN Town Hall debate with Florida lawmakers and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. They wrote passionate op-eds for major publications (read them in CNN, Harper's Bazaar, and Teen Vogue). Most recently, they spearheaded the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. and other cities around the world. The Washington Post reported that more than 2 million people showed up, protesting for school safety and stricter gun legislation.

And their efforts appear to be making a difference. Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a comprehensive bill that would be "the first successful gun control measure in Florida in more than 20 years," according to The New York Times. The new law raises the minimum age for buying guns in the state from 18 to 21, expands mental health care in schools, and bans bump stocks (that's the device the Las Vegas shooter used to make his semi-automatic weapons fire more like a fully-automatic ones). Since Parkland, several major companies also stopped offering discounts to NRA members.

Still, Parkland survivors have faced a severe backlash for their activism. Conservative critics have fueled a smear campaign that includes photoshopped viral images, mean-spirited mockery, and conspiracy theories about the survivors. Some of this propaganda was spread by Russian-linked social media bots, Wired reported.

While the Parkland students' high profiles have attracted personal attacks, they have made themselves pretty clear: They're not going anywhere.