WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Republicans in Congress are much better armed than
their Democratic counterparts - a fact that helps explain the deep
partisan divide as Congress gears up for its first major votes on gun
control in a decade.
One hundred nineteen Republicans and 46 Democrats declared themselves as gun owners in a USA TODAY survey of lawmakers.
is no uniform public record of gun ownership by members of Congress,
and it is not part of the information lawmakers are required to reveal
in their annual financial disclosure forms. So USA TODAY and the Gannett
Washington Bureau contacted every congressional office to ask: Does the
lawmaker own a gun?
List: Gun Owners in Congress
results show a partisan - and regional - divide. Only 10% of
Republicans who responded said they do not own a gun, while 66% of
Democrats said they are not gun owners.
legislative counsel of Gun Owners of America, said he's not surprised.
In Republican districts, a gun "is a campaign accoutrement," he said.
on a map, the survey results speak to the cultural chasm between those
districts where guns are a talisman of individualism and those where
guns are viewed more as a criminal tool. Only 12 lawmakers from the
Northeast, including Pennsylvania, said they own firearms, while 77
Southerners said they do.
Congress' gun gap suggests that cultural
factors are at least as important as the influence of the gun lobby in
determining where members stand on President Obama's package of gun
The gun gap
Some members were more
than willing to give an inventory of their gun lockers. Sen. Mark
Pryor, D-Ark., owns three shotguns, three rifles and two pistols, press
secretary Lucy Speed said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, owns a dozen,
but her favorite is a 20-gauge Ruger, communications director Matthew
Others - overwhelmingly Southern Republicans -
declined to answer, even suggesting it was "irresponsible" for reporters
to ask the question.
Again there is a partisan split: 36
Republicans in the House refused to say whether they own guns; 11
Democrats refused to say. Across both the House and Senate, an
additional 161 lawmakers did not return repeated phone calls, e-mails
and requests for comment - 97 of those were Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he owns guns, though
he wouldn't say what kind. His Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell
of Kentucky, declined to say whether he does. In the House, Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she does not own a gun, and Speaker
John Boehner's office did not respond to multiple requests.
White House has released photos of Obama shooting skeet but asked by
reporters Monday whether Obama owns a gun, spokesman Jay Carney said
"not that I am aware of."
Obama is pushing Congress to reinstate a
ban on assault weapons, expand background checks for gun purchases and
adopt other measures to curb gun violence. Any new gun legislation in
Congress would have to pass through the Judiciary Committee in each
chamber. Eight of 23 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee
confirmed they are gun owners, but only one of the panel's 17 Democrats
admitted having a gun - Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.
Senate committee -- which is drafting gun legislation -- Chairman
Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were the
only two Democrats who said they own firearms, while six of the eight
Republicans on the committee said they do.
Gun ownership is
clearly correlated with members' political positions. Over the last two
years, the National Rifle Association's political action committee gave
10 times more contributions to House members who own guns than to those
who don't, according to an analysis of campaign finance reports filed
last week. And members who owned guns were eight times more likely to
get an "A" rating from the NRA than those who did not.
You don't say
some members, their gun ownership is a point of pride. Rep. Phil
Gingrey, R-Ga., provided a list of weapons he owns, and his spokeswoman
followed up a few days later to note the congressman had also just
bought "a third-generation Glock G27" handgun.
Democratic Sen. Joe
Manchin, who famously used a rifle to shoot a copy of an environmental
bill in a 2010 campaign ad, seemed surprised by the question about his
gun ownership, pointing out that he is from West Virginia. "Why would
anybody not own a gun?" he asked.
At least a dozen members spoke of heirloom weapons, inherited from
fathers, grandfathers and mothers, that are as much a part of the family
as their name. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., in a television ad, proudly
brandishes the Smith & Wesson his grandfather used to stop a
lynching - but his office did not return phone calls to confirm his gun
ownership. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., keeps a pistol and two rifles as
mementos of his late father.
Asked about his gun ownership, Sen.
Rob Portman, R-Ohio, tells of his great-grandfather, a Swiss immigrant
who, at age 80, "went out into a duck blind on a frozen lake and he
never came back.
"And they went out to find him at the end of the
day, and he had died of a heart attack in the duck blind with his gun
over his lap and with a smile on his face, which is part of the Portman
family lore because he loved to hunt," Portman said. "I have that gun.
And my kids have shot that gun, so it's a tradition in our family."
Portman said he's mostly concerned about the views of his
constituents on gun rights - but said he couldn't deny that his own
experience influences his votes.
For others, the question itself was an intrusion.
Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, said, "Given the security concerns
for members of Congress and their families after the shooting of (former
Arizona congresswoman) Gabrielle Giffords, it is irresponsible for
members of the media to publish how members and their families protect
themselves in public and at home."
Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., through spokeswoman Sarah Wolf, provided a more succinct response: "None of your damn business."
lawmakers declined to respond to the survey even though they have
already made public statements declaring themselves to be gun owners.
Rep Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., would not respond to the survey, but his
website says, "I am a gun owner and avid hunter, and have consistently
fought to protect the right to keep and bear arms."
Graves, a Missouri Republican who appears to be the only licensed gun
dealer in the House, also declined to respond. Graves holds an active
license for the Rockin H Gun Shop, which apparently has been in his
family for some time, though there is no longer a shop affiliated with
Hammond, the gun owner's group lobbyist, said he was
surprised by the number of lawmakers who declined to talk about their
guns. It suggests "they feel that gun ownership is more sensitive than
some of the other things they have to reveal," he said.
Members are allowed a few secrets.
Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer, who previously served as chief of the
Capitol Police, said lawmakers are "permitted to have guns in their
offices" and would not have to tell anybody they had a gun.
"We discourage them," he said. "I personally don't know of any member who is packing," he said.
In the public hallways of the Capitol, a lawmaker can carry a weapon only if it is "unloaded and securely wrapped," Gainer said.
the Capitol, members are governed by the gun laws of their states. Rep.
Tom Cotton, R-Ark., "travels with firearms while on official business
in (his) district," press secretary Doug Coutts said.
Reflecting the constituents
responses suggest that gun ownership among lawmakers is on par with gun
ownership nationwide. In a December 2012 USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 43% of
respondents said they have a gun in their home. In USA TODAY's lawmakers
survey, 43% who responded said they were gun owners.
argued that gun ownership does not determine a lawmakers' vote on gun
control. More likely, he said, the culture of the district they
represent shapes their view of gun control and their decision to own a
"Lots of Democrats live in urban areas like Chicago and New
York where guns are all but banned," said Hammond, whose Gun Owners of
America bills itself as "the only no-compromise gun lobby in
Those lawmakers "don't have a lot of constituents who
place a high value on the Second Amendment," and also "don't have the
personal experiences with guns that would lead them to see them as
anything other than a dangerous nasty object," Hammond said.
gun owners in Congress support gun control. Rep. Keith Ellison, a
Democrat from a Minnesota district where six people were killed in a
sign-shop shooting last fall, said, "I am a gun owner, and I believe in
common-sense gun safety rules."
But gun-control advocates say the
USA TODAY survey shows how difficult it is for Republicans to endorse
gun measures or to even publicly declare that they don't own guns. "This
has become a political totem - a badge of honor for many politicians,"
said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
ownership and the Second Amendment have become "a symbol of a political
identity: a rugged individualist who is willing to lay down the law
when the government oversteps its bounds," with an emphasis on small
government and personal freedom, Everitt said.
For Republicans in
conservative, rural districts, he said, "the reality of whether they own
a gun may be butting up against the image they want to project."
report is a joint project of USA TODAY and the Gannett Washington
Bureau. Congressional offices were contacted multiple times by e-mail
and phone, and additional in-person interviews of members were done on
The survey was done by: USA TODAY reporters
Cooper Allen, Eliza Collins, Susan Davis, Jackie Kucinich, Martha T.
Moore, Christopher Schnaars, Fredreka Schouten and Tom Vanden Brook;
Gannett reporters Paul Barton, Deborah Barfield Berry, Larry Bivins,
Raju Chebium, Christopher Doering, Nicole Gaudiano, Maureen Groppe,
Malia Rulon Herman, Erin Kelly, Ledyard King, Deirdre Shesgreen, Mary
Orndoff Troyan and Brian Tumulty; James R. Carroll of the Louisville
Courier-Journal; and Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press.