NRA’s Power Over Congress Prevents Sensible Gun Safety
After Sunday’s devastating attack in Las Vegas, the deadliest in U.S. history, public attention has shifted back to the issue of gun control. It is impossible to examine this issue without confronting the overwhelming power the National Rifle Association has over Republican congresspeople, as well as its historical effort to suppress gun violence research.
Gun rights groups overwhelmingly support GOP candidates, contributing $5.9 million into Republican campaigns in the 2016 election cycle, compared with $106,000 to those of Democrats. It’s also the most money gun lobbyists have given in a campaign year since at least 1990.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks money in politics, found that in 2016 more than half of the members of the House of Representatives—or 232 of the 435—received money from gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America. That money went disproportionately to Republicans. Only nine Democrats received campaign contributions from these groups.
Joshua Horowitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spoke to Ian Masters of the Background Briefing program. Horowitz says that the NRA’s primary agenda today is to make it easier for people to access gun silencers as well as to carry concealed weapons. In fact, an NRA-backed bill moving through Congress that would make it easier to purchase gun silencers has been temporarily pulled in light of the Las Vegas shooting. Horowitz is certain that more lives will be lost should this legislation pass.
“The noise is what alerted people to take cover,” he says. “The idea that we need to protect the shooters in these situations is completely ludicrous … let’s not make it easier for people hellbent on homicide to hide where they’re coming from.”
Masters spoke of the NRA’s outdated database, saying, “The ATF have been hampered and hamstrung for decades by the NRA; they’re not able to use computers, you have to use 3 x 5 cards, file indexes going back to the 30’s. When you think about this fellow having 42 guns, 23 at the scene and 19 in his home, along with a bunch of explosives, and tons of ammunition, you’d think if you could computerize these sales, then law enforcement could flag massive purchases, which, there’s a pattern with these mass shootings, that the shooters go out and buy tons and tons of ammunition, magazines, et cetera. It’s amazing what the NRA is getting away with.”
Dr. Allen Francis, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, also spoke on the program, asserting that “the focus is so much on the details of the event and the motivations of the killer. There will always be people who go berserk. This happens all around the world. The difference between our country and the rest of the world is that when someone goes berserk here, they might have 45 different firearms, and many of those will be military-grade.” Francis also asserted that “to me, the NRA is a much worse terrorist organization than ISIS and al-Qaida combined,” and that it is “responsible for more deaths in the U.S. than any terrorist group could possibly achieve.”
Although Francis wrote a widely circulated letter to The New York Times saying that “It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither),” Trump remains one of the only hopes of the Democrats to confront the NRA.
Despite being an advocate for Second Amendment rights on the campaign trail, Trump has given mixed messages on the issue in the past. In December 2012, Trump praised President Obama for his speech in Newtown, Conn., after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which Obama pledged to work toward combating gun violence, and to push for gun control and better mental health laws. Trump responded to a tweet asking his opinion on gun control in 2013: “Big Second Amendment believer but background checks to weed out the sicko’s are fine.”
It’s an idea loaded with skepticism, but some Democrats—desperate for any kind of action on the issue—consider the President a possible wild card in swaying Republicans who have opposed gun control measures.
“He’s the key to unlocking anything that could happen on gun control,” said a senior Democratic aide. “If Republicans are going to move, it’s because he makes them. …”Still, Manchin [D-W. VA.] argued that the measure might have a better chance now under the Trump administration, saying gun owners will trust Trump more than they trusted President Barack Obama with their firearms.
Regardless, Trump seemed to shut the door to conversation on gun control Tuesday night, saying, “at some point perhaps that will come. That’s not today.”
Jimmy Kimmel also spoke out against the idea that the attack could not have been prevented, saying “I’ve been reading comments from people who say ‘This is terrible, but there’s nothing we could do about it.’ I disagree with that intensely. Of course, there was something we can do about it. There are a lot of things we can do about it. But we don’t. Which is interesting, because when someone with a beard attacks us, we tap phones, we invoke travel bans, we build walls. We take every possible precaution to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But when an American buys a gun and kills other Americans, then there’s nothing we can do about that. Because the Second Amendment. Our forefathers wanted us to have AK47s, is the argument.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, an advocate of stricter gun control measures, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would ban the sale and possession of “bump-stock” equipment (equipment that greatly increases a semiautomatic’s rate of fire) like that used by the Las Vegas shooter.
According to the bill’s text, “It shall be unlawful for any person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a trigger crank, a bump-fire device or any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun.”
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