Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler watch in front of U.S. President Donald Trump hosting a campaign event with Perdue and Loeffler at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Georgia, United States, on December 5, 2020.
Dustin Chambers | Reuters
Gun rights groups, under the control of the Senate, are investing millions of dollars in external spending on Georgia’s January 5 runoff to support two Republican candidates.
Meanwhile, gun control groups have lagged far behind in funding for the two Democratic candidates, which could affect their chances of winning as well as President-elect Joe Biden's hopes of passing gun legislation in 2021.
Pro gun groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America support reigning GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Republicans will have a 50-48 majority in the Senate in January. If the Republicans only keep one seat in Georgia, the GOP will retain control of the Senate. If the Democrats win both races, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the casting vote giving the party unified control over the White House and Congress.
As of November 15, the NRA's political arm has spent more than $ 2.2 million on independent spending, including billboards, advertisements, postcards, text messages, and advertising, that support Perdue and Loeffler or oppose Ossoff, according to the Federal Election Commission and pronounce Warnock.
"The NRA has spent millions and there will be more," NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said in an email.
Other gun rights groups have also invested in external spending on the Senate runoff races, FEC data shows. Gun Owners of America has spent more than $ 126,000 on ads, email, and text messages supporting Loeffler and Perdue. Gun Rights America, the Super-PAC of the National Association for Gun Rights, has spent more than $ 22,000 on digital advertising and contacting voters via phone, mail, and text, opposing Warnock and Ossoff. A PAC called God, Guns & Life has spent more than $ 36,000 on ads sponsoring Republican senators.
"It is in the best interests of the United States and our rights after the second amendment if [Ossoff and Warnock] both lose on January 5th," said Dudley Brown, executive director of Gun Rights America, in a statement. "I definitely hope that their ambitious political careers will be forgotten and that Georgia voters will save the US Senate."
"As a wife and mother, I appreciate the second change that enables me to protect myself and my family with firearms," said Terry Beatley, president of God, Guns & Life PAC. "That's why God, Guns & Life PAC supports Loeffler and Perdue – they will protect gun rights."
Gun Owners of America did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.
Gun control groups focus on voter turnout
While Georgia voters made history by electing Joe Biden as president in November, his gun control platform is unlikely to get anywhere in law without Democratic Senate scrutiny.
"Without a commanding Democratic majority, we shouldn't be holding our breath to make major policy changes anytime soon," said Kristin Goss, a professor at Duke University who studies weapons policy and politics.
The only external spending in the Georgian drains of a large arms control group so far has come from Brady PAC, according to FEC data. The group spent $ 100,000 on a digital advertising campaign against Loeffler aimed at suburban female voters. Brian Lemek, Brady PAC's executive director, said the group will monitor the ad and "see if we need to invest more."
Brady PAC and other gun control groups, Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Moms Demand Action will host a virtual rally on December 18th. The organizations want to collectively raise $ 100,000 for the Georgia Senate Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of Warnock and Ossoff, according to a Giffords spokesman.
"We are very excited and proud to be working with our colleagues in the movement to ensure that Georgia voters understand the importance of their voice in gun violence prevention," said Robin Lloyd, executive director of Giffords.
While gun security groups have not yet announced any additional financial investment in the runoff election, the organizations have coordinated voluntary efforts to identify voters for the Democratic candidates.
"After a year of saturated air waves, Georgians know what the candidates are in this race. So the elections will depend on the turnout. We have one of the largest, most active and effective grassroots networks in the country – that's it." Why we focus on engaging with voters and wearing our shoes, keyboards and dials, "said Andrew Zucker, a spokesman for Everytown.
On December 16, Everytown and Moms Demand Action reported that their Georgia volunteer network had established at least 115,000 voter contacts for the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns through telephone banking, text banking, acquisition, postcard mailing, and literature distribution.
"Our best resources are people and the communities we build," said Adrienne Penake, state election director for the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action.
The Georgia chapter of March For Our Lives, the youth-led gun violence prevention group founded after the deadly mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, aims to reach out to 500,000 voters and young people through traditional methods of the Address public relations and social media.
"If we are to end gun violence, we have to vote for candidates who believe it's a real problem, who actually work in Washington, not just for the gun lobby," said Mina Turabi, state director of March For Our Lives Georgia.
The Community Justice Action Fund, a gun safety organization focused on color communities, has referred volunteers on its network to the New Georgia Project and other Georgia-based nonprofits.
"Whichever way you look at this crisis, gun deaths are overwhelmingly affecting black and brown people," said Gregory Jackson, advocacy director at CJAF. "Those who are from Georgia will play an important role in tackling the public health crisis."
Gun problems in Georgia
Historically, even democratic political candidates in Georgia have teamed up with pro gun groups like the NRA, but that has changed in recent years.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Democratic MP Lucy McBath deposed a reigning Republican in Georgia's 6th Congress District and made gun safety a central part of her platform. Millions of dollars in external spending from gun control groups helped lead them to victory in 2018 and 2020.
McBath became an advocate for gun violence prevention after her son Jordan Davis was shot dead in 2012. She was a spokesperson for Everytown and Moms Demand Action before running for Congress.
"Gun regulatory groups have more money and mobilized energy than ever before in history – and they are seriously involved in elections, which they did not a decade ago," said Goss, the duke professor.
Among Republican primary voters in Georgia, polled in a poll conducted by the University of Georgia in April 2018, 45% said they wanted stricter laws on the sale of firearms. 90% of Democratic primary voters polled in a separate university poll were in favor of stricter laws.
In 2018, Georgia had the fourth highest firearm death rate in any state, with 1,680 people dying from gun violence, the Centers for Disease Control reported. Guns are the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 17 in Georgia, according to a Giffords analysis of CDC and FBI data.
Gun violence also disproportionately affects urban color communities in Georgia, according to Giffords. Black men make up about 15% of Georgia's total population, but make up more than two-thirds of the state's gun murder victims, data shows.
Gun violence has increased in Georgia and across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic. Atlanta recorded the highest number of murders this year since 2003, the Atlanta Journal's Constitution reported.