Thoughts and Prayers or Policy and Action?: The Role Interest Groups Play in State Firearm Legislation

May 4, 2020   /  

Student: Abby Donohue
Major: Political Science
Minor: History
Advisors: Dr. Bas van Doorn, Dr. Angela Bos

Abby DonohueThis project investigates the variance in gun control legislation at the state level and the role that interest groups play in the passage of policy. Many scholars have evaluated the role of interest groups in state politics and many have determined that the level of professionalism in a state impacts the influence that groups may have. I argue that professionalism also impacts the role of interest groups related to gun rights and gun control with states with less professional legislatures see more interest group influence than more professional states. Using donation data, I was able to determine that there was a difference in the amount of money donated by gun rights groups with states that repealed legislation receiving more and states passing legislation receiving less but this difference was not significant. I also find that legislative change occurs only in states with lower levels of professionalisms thus, the role that professionalism plays in movement in legislation was significant.

Abby will be online to field comments on May 8:
2-4 pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

48 thoughts on “Thoughts and Prayers or Policy and Action?: The Role Interest Groups Play in State Firearm Legislation”

  1. If you were leading a gun control interest group, how would you encourage them to spend their money?

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thank you so much for your comment and interest in my presentation!
      I think I would encourage gun control groups to spend their money in areas where they think it might actually make a difference, such as states with mixed control. Because gun control is mostly a partisan issue (though not always as I saw in my results) there are some states that are likely to go one way or the other simply because of who is in power.
      I would however argue that for gun control groups money does not seem to make or break the decision for states to pass legislation. I was not able to measure face-to-face interactions with legislators in my study but based on my knowledge of the gun control movement and the very little amount of money they spent, talking to legislators and forming connections may be more important in getting their legislation passed!

  2. Really enjoyed working with you on this one, Abby! It came together really nicely. The kids and S’more say hi!

    1. Thank Professor van Doorn, I couldn’t have done it without your help! Tell the kids and S’more I also say hi and I hope to see them soon-ish!

  3. Great work, Abby! Congratulations!

    For the states that were not highlighted in your table (Ohio, for example), was there no significant data for those states? Do interest groups not try to influence those legislatures because those states possibly don’t have many restrictions on gun laws already?

    1. Hi Eva!
      The States that were in my table were ones that saw change in legislation from 2013-2018 so any state outside of the table did not have any shifts in legislation (at least not in the two categories I looked at). I wasn’t able to look at legislation that may have been proposed but ultimately failed but it would be interesting to look at that and see how much interest group influence there was in those states because that would be another way to measure their power. There are some state though as you said that are already very loose or very strict on their gun laws where I didn’t see any money at all.
      Thanks for the question!

  4. Well thought-out, executed, and presented. The title grabbed me, and I had not considered ‘professionalism’ as a factor before. Congrats!

    1. Hi Roger,
      Thank you so much for your comment and interest in my presentation. I was fairly proud of my title so I’m glad it grabbed your attention! Professionalism is a really interesting concept that I stumbled upon early on in my research and it was a huge “aha” moment, I could probably do a whole IS just on professionalism!

  5. Also, do you think gun rights or gun control groups have more of an influence on legislators? Thanks!

    1. Hello Again Eva πŸ™‚
      This is a great answer, unfortunately I will not be able to give a very clear answer. I think that both groups have influence in different states in different ways. Gun rights groups as I saw can be incredibly influential monetarily especially in a state like New Hampshire which has a citizen legislature and legislators only make $100 a year (not kidding), so they need more financial support to run their campaigns. Gun Control groups are likely more influential in building relationships with legislators and helping them out in other ways but I wasn’t really able to measure that sort of influence. Thanks again for the questions!

  6. After our casual conversations about your IS project in class all year, it is wonderful to see this come to fruition! Do you think the relative professionalism of state legislatures would affect their their propensity to enact legislative change on other controversial topics (beyond gun control)?

    1. Hi Professor Holt,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I do think the professionalism of a state legislature can impact their likelihood of passing certain legislation especially on controversial topics. Specifically, when looking at general interest group activity it has been seen that interest groups can wield a lot more influence on states with citizen or hybrid legislatures so I think if one side is able to get an advantage over the other in those states they may be able to get a bill passed however if there is equal influence its probably unlikely that anything will pass. I also think partisanship plays a huge role in getting stuff passed especially on controversial issues which I also saw play out in my study. Thank you for your question and your interest in my presentation!

  7. Looks amazing Abby! I’m so proud of you. I think the idea of professionalism is important and I wonder how it could affect the competitiveness of state-wide elections as well the platforms candidates run on.

    1. Hi Saralee,
      Thank you for watching and commenting! Professionalism is very important and a factor not widely discussed so I am glad you also thought it was important. I think it can impact the competitiveness and platforms of state-wide elections especially when looking at interest group influence. In a state where state legislators are only working part time and not making a lot of money, donations from interest groups can go a long way and possibly influence their platform, I obviously was not able to study this but it would be an interesting thing to look at in the future! Thanks again!

  8. Abby,

    Fantastic work! Do you think the competitiveness of local elections for state legislatures has an adverse affect on the nature of gun control legislation? As Virignia becomes more competitive, I find it interesting that they’re using their newly minted majority to pass a wide variety of gun control legislation.

    1. Hi Issac,
      Thank you for watching my presentation. This is a really interesting point. I think it would likely depend on the state, if there is already a push for gun control legislation then I don’t think it would hurt the movement but if the state is fairly split it could be dangerous to push more gun control. I found some evidence of what looked like “retaliation spending” by gun rights groups in states that had recently passed background checks and I think if those groups are successful and get more pro-gun rights legislators elected it could lead to even less restrictions than there were before. Hope this answers your question!

  9. Awesome job Abby!

    This is a super interesting project and topic. Do you think groups need to tailor their strategies depending on the level of professionalism of the legislature? Are there any specific ways they can do this?


    1. Hi Emily,
      Thank you so much for your interest in my project! I think it would help to tailor strategies to determine what is going to make the most impact on the legislators in question. Specifically looking at citizen legislatures, both money and resources (specifically research on the subject matter) could be helpful since they are not paid as much and have less access to staff so depending on the legislator in question either one of these strategies could be helpful! Overall, it is hard to say for sure which strategies work well because I only looked at donations but I do think it would be beneficial for organizations to create new strategies depending on the state they are operating in! Thanks again for the question!

  10. This is the type of work I would expect to be in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. You have done an excellent job. I learned some things. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you so much for your interest in my presentation. That is a huge compliment, thank you again!

  11. Hi Abby: I enjoyed seeing how you condensed your project for the shorter video format – well done! It was really great to be your second reader and to have time at your IS oral to have a conversation about your project. It is always great to see when students’ IS topics are such a clear extension of their interests and coursework. This topic is highly relevant to current debates in U.S. politics – and you chose a promising examination of it at the state level. It’s been great having you in classes – we’re going to miss you in Wooster…especially Liam, Naomi, and S’more! πŸ™‚ Best of luck with everything and keep in touch! Best, Prof. Bos

    1. Hi Professor Bos!
      Thank you so much for watching and commenting. It was tough to condense it down and decide what was the most important things to include. This IS was definitely influenced by my coursework in the Political Science Department! I will miss all of you as well!

  12. Congratulations Abby! What a fantastic project. How difficult was it for you to find data? Face-to-face and personal interactions seem inherently difficult to measure, but how was the process tracing donations? Also, what’s next? Will you continue this type of research as you pursue your MPP? Congrats again I’m so proud of you!

    1. Thank you Abby! It was not super difficult to find donation data, there is a website that tracks donations on the state and local level so I was able to use their data. The website is not super user friendly but thats was the only challenge in my data collection! I do hope to continue both research on gun control and state level politics in the near future. Thank you again!

  13. Abby,
    Your presentation was excellent. Focusing on professionalism was an interesting way to approach the gun control topic. How very enlightening . As you did your research, what finding (s) actually surprised you the most?
    Congratulations on a job well done!!

    1. Hi Grandma,
      Thanks so much for watching! I think what was most surprising was the outliers in the chart of states that saw movement in legislation. There were 5/13 states that had interesting differences either in terms of donations or mixed party legislatures. I think these states showed that gun control isn’t completely partisan when we often think of it as a polarizing issue. Thanks for watching and commenting!!

  14. Great work Abby! Your passion for the subject matter is so apparent. I’m curious if, after your experience with IS, you’ll consider doing your masters thesis at American University on gun control as well.

    1. Thanks Anna! I would definitely consider doing more research on both gun control issues or state government, in my conclusion I identified a bunch of possibilities for future research that I would love to look into more! Thank you for the comment

  15. Great work Abby!! I’m curious about your future plans? Please share.

    1. Thanks Dad! I’m heading down to DC to get my Masters of Public Policy from American University!

  16. Hi Abby! Thank you for sharing your work here–it’s very interesting, and I’ve especially enjoyed getting to learn about legislature professionalization throughout your project! Looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in the future!

  17. Thank you for your thought provoking IS presentation! I found it quite interesting due to its timely topic. I wonder how similar the results would be with other special interests groups that support other types of legislation.

    1. Thanks for watching Kristin, I’m glad you found it interesting. I believe there is some research on how interest groups influence state level policy in different issue areas but it does not seem to be an area that has been researched in depth, definitely something I would research more in the future though!

  18. Congratulations Abby! It is so amazing to see your passion for this issue come to fruition in such an important and interesting research project. I cannot wait to see where you continue to go with this passion. If you had an unlimited budget/unlimited time, is there any area that you came across during your research that you would have liked to study further?

    I am so unbelievably proud of you.

    1. Hi Chloe,
      Thanks so much for watching and commenting! There are a bunch of things that I would love to look more into with more time and money but I am especially interested in learning more about the relationship building aspect of lobbying. I would love to be able to ask legislators and interest groups in different states about their experiences with each other and how they has influenced their vote or position on the issue of gun rights or gun control. This was a great question, thank you!

  19. Abby,

    Congratulations on completion of your Independent Study; I am so proud of you! Your presentation was clear to follow, especially with all of the visual aids, and I enjoyed hearing more about an issue you are so passionate about.

    As you move forward in your graduate career, are there any aspects of this research that you would like to continue? More specifically, would focusing on just one state be beneficial, or is the broad scope of the nation better suited for your studies?

    Thank you so much for sharing; congratulations!

    1. Hi Emily!
      Thank you so much for watching and commenting! I would definitely want to look more into this subject in my graduate studies if possible. Doing a 50 state analysis is very complicated so I would be interested in looking at specific states. One of the original ideas I had for this was case studies looking into the laws in individual states And I think this would be a really great way to analyze the state of gun control legislation as a whole! Thanks again for your question!

  20. Very interesting presentation, Abby! Thank you so much for your work and I look forward to seeing what you do next!

  21. Abby! Wonderful work. Also, your voice is very soothing (can I say that haha). Would you want to work with this more in the future, how so? Congratulations <3!

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