FWIW: No time for thoughts and prayers

Republicans launch dozens of pro-gun ads after Atlanta and Boulder massacres

As the nation still mourns the lives lost to anti-Asian, misogynist hate and senseless gun violence in Atlanta and Boulder, Republican politicians and groups continue to ramp up advertising campaigns in defense of their number one constituency: guns. 

Typically after mass shootings in our country, we see a familiar messaging pattern from pro-gun groups after these events: denial and temporary silence. GOP lawmakers, the National Rifle Association, and others would say next to nothing until the most intense emotions and the news cycle passed, at which point they would resume their usual drum beats.

That’s changed. The NRA’s campaign arm was the third largest spender on Google ads last week, and Republican politicians across the country launched ad campaigns in defense of guns and assault weapons *even after* these tragic events. In this week’s FWIW, we take a look at these campaigns online and what anti-gun groups are doing online to push for progress in the small window they have to shape the narrative and outcomes from these events.

But first...some quick housekeeping. We’re starting to explore different ways of sharing our insights, and for now, we’ll be publishing more content throughout the week about political digital ad spending and digital tactics that wouldn’t necessarily fit in our regular Friday FWIW newsletters. On Tuesday, we looked at the early digital ads surrounding the possible recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom and yesterday dug into the major Facebook ad spending by grifters trying to sell right-wing propaganda as children’s literature. You can find that content + more at fwiwnewsletter.substack.com.

By the numbers:

FWIW, here are the top spenders on political Google ads from March 14th to March 20th:

One of the newest big spenders on Google ads is the North Fund, a project tied to progressive group Opportunity Wisconsin. Just last week, they spent $45,300 on YouTube and Google Search ads against Sen. Ron Johnson, who is still undecided about running for re-election next year, in response to his no vote to the American Rescue Plan. Dems are on offense, and this is just another example of Democratic groups continuing to hammer Republicans for voting against the relief bill. 

Especially notable among the top spenders this week is the NRA, which spent $33,400 on acquisition banner ads advocating against gun regulations. This particular campaign was launched on March 19th, just two days after the anti-Asian massacre in Atlanta, and three days before the mass shooting in Boulder. 

FWIW, here are the top spenders on political Facebook ads from March 14th to March 20th:

Gavin Newsom’s campaign against a probable recall effort is already underway, and he’s spending so much on digital ads already that he’s a top spender on both Facebook and Google. Read more + see his ads here.

We’re also glad to see that Facebook has started classifying *some of* Ben Shapiro’s ads on the platform as political, even if they are still very much steaming hot garbage. All $156,128 he spent on the platform last week went toward ads opposing the  minimum wage and promoting his typical reactionary culture war schtick. 🤢

Finally, here are the top spenders on Snapchat so far this year. There aren’t any new big spenders from last week, but there’s a group called the JOSH PAC that spent one (1) dollar on an ad targeting Springfield, MO, in an apparent effort to reach Josh Hawley (or perhaps his sister?) directly with a simple message: “HEY JOSH HAWLEY! TRAITORS DON’T BELONG IN THE SENATE!” The ad got 283 impressions, so maybe he did see it!

No time for thoughts and prayers

The NRA is hardly the only group continuing to push fear mongering rhetoric to gun owners in the face of extreme gun violence in the hopes of slowing potential legislative action. One group, the Firearms Policy Coalition, has spent nearly $20,000 on Facebook ads like these that have been targeting men across the country this month. These ads in particular have been running since Wednesday, just two days after an assault rifle was used to kill ten people in Boulder.

We’re already starting to hear from GOP lawmakers this year that those scary Democrats are trying to “use a tragedy to score political points,” as if they have any room to talk. Republican members of Congress are already running pro-gun Facebook ads to push against federal gun restrictions, as are the two leading Republican candidates for governor in Virginia. Again, the ads below started running after the Boulder attack.

These extremely insensitive ads were probably expected from people like Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), but even freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA), who only won her seat by ~10,000 votes, continued to run pro-gun advertising during and after these mass shootings - falsely claiming that Joe Biden is taking away 2nd Amendment rights.  

Elsewhere on social media, conservatives are in lock-step and dominating the conversation around gun regulation on the major platforms. Four of the top five posts about gun regulation on Facebook from the past week came from Fox News, and 82 of the top 100 posts on the subject come from right-wing pages (just 11 came from left-leaning pages). In fact, one of the top posts on the subject was from the NRA celebrating a Boulder judge rejecting an assault weapons ban just days before the attack.

There is no comparable coordinated online campaign of this size on the left in response to the attacks in Atlanta and Boulder, but we’d like to shout-out the groups on the Left that are investing in digital ads to push for meaningful gun control legislation. One of the top spenders on Facebook ads is Sandy Hook Promise, which has spent over $90,000 on the platform in the past week. They’re using their ads to argue that the same violence that took place over eight years ago in Connecticut still remains unaddressed, pushing for a federal assault weapons ban.

Everytown for Gun Safety is one of the other few gun violence prevention groups that’s started running ads this month, while few, if any, Democratic lawmakers are running ads on the issue. Terry McCauliffe is one of them...kind of. See for yourself:

It’s always infuriating to see the Right advocate for preserving lax gun laws again and again after every single incident of mass violence, especially when a majority of Americans want stricter gun laws. Democrats have a path forward on gun reform in HR 8, which passed out of the House two weeks ago, but the Right is already framing the legislation for them - three of the top five posts on Facebook about the bill from the past month come from none other than Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the other two come from Mike Huckabee and online right-wing pundit Colion Noir. 🙃