One year ago, 20 first-graders went off to school in Newtown, Connecticut, some surely thinking about the upcoming Christmas holidays. But they never came home, becoming along with six of their educators collateral damage in the NRA’s big-dollar war to boost gun sales, as Beverly Bandler noted last March.
By Beverly Bandler (Originally published on March 4, 2013)
The issue of the NRA vs. America is not only about the nation’s horrific gun violence epidemic. Americans have to decide whether the National Rifle Association and the gun industry should continue to corrupt our political system, whether the NRA with an estimated 3 million members and a management dominated by firearms manufacturers should control politicians and determine public policy for 315 million.
Or as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “The NRA is only powerful if you and I let them be powerful.”
The NRA has morphed from a group that represented ordinary gun owners into a front group for the firearms industry, whose profits are increasingly dependent on the sale of military-bred weapons like assault rifles.
Today’s NRA also stands astride some of the ugliest currents in our politics, combining the “Astroturf” activism of the Tea Party, the unlimited and undisclosed “dark money” of groups like Crossroads GPS, and the sham legislating of groups like the American Legislative Council.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, is in the business of selling the American public a “Hellish World” in order to frighten them into buying into the idea that their survival requires them to buy more guns, join the NRA and organize opposition to gun control measures. The NRA has been called a “cynical, mercenary political cult” by a former employee.
And the extremism is escalating. In May 1999, LaPierre said, “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period.”
However, in December 2012, after 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered by a gunman wielding a semi-automatic assault rifle, LaPierre said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He proposed that armed, NRA-trained vigilantes patrol each of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools, discarding the gun-free zones he once championed.
But the NRA is not only out of touch with mainstream America’s desire for common-sense gun laws; it is also out of touch with its own members. NRA members are much more sensible about gun safety than the management of the non-democratic, top-down, hierarchical NRA.
A May 2012 poll revealed moderation: three out of four NRA members believed that background checks should be completed before every gun purchase. Nearly two-thirds supported a requirement that gun owners alert police when their firearms are lost or stolen.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, noted that it is just the intensity of the NRA leadership’s extremism that intimidates politicians: “It only takes political courage because the NRA makes people toe the line against the majority view of the country. It’s time the majority stood up and said enough already. And the majority should have a motive because any of us could be a victim tomorrow.”
But the gap between the public’s desire for gun sanity and the NRA’s insistence on gun madness is best explained by following the money. NRA’s corporate patrons include 22 firearms manufacturers, 12 of which are makers of assault weapons with household names like Beretta and Ruger. Donors from the industry and other dark reaches of the corporate world have funneled some $52 million to the NRA in recent years.
LaPierre serves at the pleasure of a 76-member board that is stocked with industry brass, and which is all but self-perpetuating. Only one-third of the board’s membership is up for re-election in any given year. Voting is limited to the NRA’s honored “lifetime” members and to dues-payers with at least five consecutive years of being in good standing. One of the NRA’s 10-member nominating committee is the CEO of Freedom Group which manufactures the Bushmaster semiautomatic that Adam Lanza used to slaughter the 20 children and six teachers in Newtown.
The NRA’s political contributions totaled $2,850,033 between 2003 and 2012, 74 percent of which went to Republicans, according to Follow the Money.org. In the 2012 political races, the total percentage of contributions that went to the GOP: 88 percent.
The NRA’s traditional, regulated PAC is as strong as ever. It spent $16.6 million in national political races in 2012. It was joined by a newly empowered NRAILA, which kicked in an additional $7.4 million from undisclosed sources, making the NRA the eighth-largest dark-money group in the country. [Primary Source: Tim Dickinson: “The NRA vs. America,” RollingStone.]
The consequences of the NRA’s long-running assault on gun-safety laws have been devastating to American citizens. “Since 1968, more Americans have died from gunfire than died in all the wars of the nation’s history: 1.2 million died in wars (from the Revolutionary War though the Iraq War); 1.4 million died in firearm deaths,” according to Politifact.
Author Tom Diaz has written that “In the four decades between 1969 and 2009, a total of 5,586 people were killed in terrorist attacks against the United States or its interests. By comparison, more than 30,000 people were killed by guns in the United States every single year between 1986 and 2010, with the exception of the four years in which the number of deaths fell slightly below 30,000,1999, 2000, 2001, and 2004.
“In other words, the number of people killed every year in the United States by guns is about five times the grand total of Americans killed in terrorist attacks anywhere in the world since 1969.”
But this death toll is of little concern to the NRA. It uses inflamed rhetoric about protecting America’s “freedom” and “civil rights,” but its real purpose is the selling of more and more guns and the expansion of the corporate power of the multi-billion-dollar gun industry.
“The NRA wins because Americans lose focus,” writes Tim Dickinson.
So, the only way to counter the NRA’s power is for American citizens to stay focused, committed and consistent, and to understand that this issue is not only about gun violence. It is also part of the struggle between America and right-wing extremism.
Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico.
In the News: “The Showdown Over Gun Laws From Coast to Coast” by Gavin Aronsen, Mother Jones, 2012-03-01. http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/03/maryland-assault-weapons-gun-laws
See also Mother Jones’s special report “America Under the Gun.” http://www.motherjones.com/special-reports/2012/12/guns-in-america-mass-shootings
How Many People Have been killed by guns since Newtown? 2,396 or more since Newtown as of March 1, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html
A Snapshot of State Gun laws. Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-snapshot-of-state-gun-laws/2012/07/24/gJQAsfJp7W_graphic.html
11 Facts About the NRA. Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/11-facts-about-the-nra/2012/07/24/gJQAJSNKrc_gallery.html#photo=1
Gun Control Facts By James D. Agresti and Reid K. Smith. Just Facts, September 13, 2010. Revised 2/11/13. http://justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp
Follow the Money.org https://www.google.com/search?q=followthemoney&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=fflb
Open Secrets.org Center for Responsive Politics. http://www.opensecrets.org/
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Diaz, Tom. The Last Gun. The Last Gun: Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It. The New Press, (March 26, 2013).
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Rosenfeld, Steven. “The NRA once supported gun control.” It may seem hard to believe, but for decades the organization helped write federal laws restricting gun use. Salon, 2013-01-14. http://www.salon.com/2013/01/14/the_nra_once_supported_gun_control/
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_______“The Hitler gun control lie.” Gun rights activists who cite the dictator as a reason against gun control have their history dangerously wrong. Salon, 2013-01-11. http://www.salon.com/2013/01/11/stop_talking_about_hitler/
_______“The NRA is the enabler of mass murders.” In the wake of today’s shootings, Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler says we need to wage “war” on the gun lobby. Salon, 2012-12-14. http://www.salon.com/2012/12/14/the_nra_is_the_enabler_of_mass_murderers/
_______“Why the NRA’s plan won’t work. Science and history show that the NRA’s plan to flood schools with arms is ineffective,and would be disastrous. Salon, 2012-12-21. http://www.salon.com/2012/12/21/why_the_nras_plan_wont_work/
_______ “The NRA’s war on gun science.” In addition to fighting gun laws, the gun lobby has spent the past 20 years fighting research into gun safety. Salon, 2012-07-25. http://www.salon.com/2012/07/25/the_nras_war_on_gun_science/
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_______ “The Nightmare Vision of Wayne LaPierre.” Slate, 2013-02-13. http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2013/02/13 the_nightmare_vision_of_wayne_lapierre.html
_______The NRA Is ‘Winning’ The Gun Control Battle if It Loses, or Something.’” Slate, 2013-01-18. http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2013/01/18/the_nra_is_winning_the_gun_control_battle_if_it_loses_or_something.html
_______ “How the NRA Defeats National Tragedies.” First it scares people into thinking the government is coming for their guns. Then it quietly asks the public to pray for the victims of the next rampage. Slate, 2012-12-17. http://tinyurl.com/cl4xrap
Wilkie, Christina. Wayne LaPierre: “More Guns Needed For ‘Hellish World’ Filled With Hurricanes, Kidnappers, Drug Gangs.” The Huffington Post, 2013-02-13.
Americans for Responsible Solutions http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/ Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence http://www.bradycampaign.org/ Children’s Defense Fund http://www.childrensdefense.org/ Coalition to Stop Gun Violence http://www.csgv.org/
The Joyce Foundation Gun Violence Prevention http://www.joycefdn.org/ League of Women Voters http://www.lwv.org/ Legal Community Against Violence http://www.lcav.org/ Mayors Against Illegal Guns http://mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/html/home/demandaplan.html National Gun Victims Action Council http://gunvictimsaction.org/ National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence http://lepartnership.org/ One Million Moms for Gun Control firstname.lastname@example.org Sandy Hook Promise http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/ Stop Handgun Violence http://www.stophandgunviolence.org/ Violence Policy Center http://www.vpc.org/aboutvpc.htm