By Ethan Rome – Executive Director, Health Care for America Now
When National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre called on Congress to place an armed guard in every school in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, it showed that he has no intention of doing anything to stop deranged people from using military-style weapons to kill people in large numbers. LaPierre made it clear that the NRA isn’t interested in ending gun violence. In his theatrical and defiant Dec. 21 press conference a week after 26 Sandy Hook children and teachers were shot to death, LaPierre called for even more guns in schools.
In the debate about gun violence, the NRA will rely on time-tested scare tactics. Here are five reasons why the NRA must be defeated:
1. NRA leaders’ immoral interpretation of the Second Amendment presents a serious public health risk.
LaPierre essentially argues that the right to bear any kind of firearm for any reason without any rules – including limits on criminals’ access to the most dangerous weapons ever manufactured – is more important than others’ right to live. This is not what most NRA members or Americans support, and it’s not what the Second Amendment says.
2. The NRA does not represent the views of most NRA members and gun owners.
Recent polling underscores this point. For example, 74 percent of NRA members (and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners) support requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers. The NRA rank and file also supports barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns (71 percent) and believes the law should require gun owners to alert police to lost and stolen guns (64 percent). NRA policy makers oppose these proposals.
3. The NRA represents gun makers, not gun owners.
LaPierre’s NRA is not the voice of law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen. It is the lobbying arm for gun manufacturers opposed to a ban on the assault rifles they make. These weapons include the Bushmaster used in Newtown, Conn., and many other recent shootings. The manufacturer calls this rifle the “ultimate military combat weapons system,” and the NRA gave the Bushmaster its “Golden Bullseye Award” in 2011.
It’s no surprise that the firearms industry contributes significantly to the NRA. In fact, less than half of the NRA’s budget comes from membership dues, and contributions from weapons makers and ideological donors (including the Koch Brothers) are rising. From 2004 to 2010, the NRA’s corporate and other fundraising revenue grew twice as fast as member dues, according to a Forbes piece on “The NRA Industrial Complex” by Peter Cohan. The Violence Policy Center estimates that between 2005 and 2011 the firearms industry donated as much as $38.9 million to the NRA. Lee Fang explains in The Nation that there are dozens of insidious ways that gun makers influence the NRA beyond direct cash contributions.
4. The NRA lies to the public and its members.
The NRA lies to law-abiding gun owners who want their rights protected by saying that a ban on military-style weapons with massive magazines would mean the government will come for hunting rifles next. The group says that if we close loopholes that allow people to get around criminal background checks, it’s only matter of time before the Second Amendment would be repealed. These are flat-out lies that the NRA uses to buttress its “slippery slope” opposition to sensible gun laws like those overwhelmingly supported by individual NRA members. They use the imaginary slippery slope to justify doing nothing.
5. The NRA uses its power to silence responsible politicians and quash constructive efforts to reduce gun violence.
The NRA is a dangerous force in American politics. Not even the atrocity in Newtown has tempered the organization’s extremism and rigid opposition to any effort to address gun violence. Expect to see the NRA use its considerable resources to ruthlessly attack every legislative proposal to address this crisis. LaPierre will employ negative television ads and direct mail marketing to attack the President, the Vice President and the members of Congress fighting for change.
The NRA is a political bully, and the politics of destruction is its trademark. Politicians have feared the NRA because of its willingness to target them with smear tactics and because of its reputation for defeating opponents at the polls, even though this reputation is undeserved and wildly exaggerated.
If public officials can talk with their constituents about the need for sensible gun laws, they’ll persuade most folks. But when the NRA gives an “F” grade to politicians who want to stop gun violence in America, and when it even lobbies to limit public and private data-gathering on guns and gun violence, this organization is having a chilling effect on public policy and debate. It intimidates good people from trying to do the right thing. It protects the status quo.
That’s why we have to aggressively take on the NRA and support the Biden Commission and members of Congress working on a comprehensive solution to gun violence. Washington must address the epidemic of mass killings, the daily shootings in our cities, the culture of violence and the need to expand access to mental health services.
We should start immediately by enacting commonsense gun laws such as those advocated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and supported by those members of Congress who opposed gun legislation prior to the massacre in Newtown. Won’t the nation be safer if we reduce the number of military-style assault rifles on the streets? Won’t fewer people be shot and killed in an America without large-capacity magazines? Won’t we be safer without the gun-show loophole that allows firearms buyers to evade background checks? The NRA doesn’t think so, and the gun manufacturers who set the NRA agenda simply don’t care. After Sandy Hook, the NRA issued a proposal that would make schools more dangerous, not safer.
The NRA doesn’t offer solutions. It works to keep things the way they are, not to reduce gun violence in America. We have to put the NRA on notice that its days of steamrolling Congress are over. The NRA is a public health hazard that must be stopped.