If there’s anything that the NRA hates more than having assault weapons taken off the streets, it’s having a Democratic President in office who doesn’t take assault weapons off the streets.
At the CPAC Convention, the National Rifle Association’s head, Wayne LaPierre, took to the stage trying to make the case that the fact that Obama has done absolutely nothing to impede the rights of gun owners is proof of a conspiracy to take away guns.
Here’s the video:
Is President Obama paying attention to the NRA? In the words of one of their biggest panderers, you betcha. The NRA has had a metaphorical gun at the heads of politicians for decades. Republicans don’t stand a chance unless they demonstrate (with gun-in-hand) the proper enthusiasm for blowing the heads off innocent animals. Democrats simply cower in silent fear, leaving the issue of guns, and therefore the second amendment, alone.
In all fairness, President Obama has had a lot on his plate in the last three years. He was handed two wars, the worst economy in 80 years, a supposed “War on Terror” and a system of deregulation run amok. In other words, the Constitutional attorney who occupies the White House has bigger fish to fry than trying to debate relatively settled Constitutional law. And that pisses the NRA off. Well, to be truthful, they throw public fits, like the one thrown at CPAC by LaPierre, but in private, they are very, very happy and raking in the cash.
The NRA claims to have around 4 million members. I was unable to verify that number. In 2009, the inauguration of a
black guy Democrat allegedly scared a lot of people into the cold steel embrace of the NRA. Again, numbers are vague at best.
What isn’t vague is that the NRA is a money-making machine. Between merchandising efforts, membership dues and donations, they bring in about $237 million a year, without paying a dime in taxes. LaPierre’s annual salary is close to $1 million and he is among the top 10 highest paid executives in a not-for-profit organization. In contrast, the AFL-CIO, a favorite whipping boy of the right-wing, earns about $138 million in annual revenue and its President, Richard Trumka, makes about $273,000 a year.
While the NRA is reputed to be a lobbying superpower, the amount of money they spend in Washington is relatively small. In 2011, they spent about $2 million. 2012 is still young, but it is an election year, and they’ve only spent $300,000. Again, in contrast, the AFL-CIO spent over $4 million lobbying Washington in 2011.
While some might read that as a contrast between an organization that doesn’t play the dirty games of politics and one who does, the reality is, it’s a contrast between an organization that is comfortable with its influence in Washington and one that is holding on by a thread in a powerful anti-union climate.
The real power of the NRA is actually very democratic. While NRA members are just a small percentage of the total electorate, they vote and they vote mostly Republican. In fact, it’s estimated that 95% of NRA members (versus 68% of the general electorate in the record year of 2008) go to the polls, making LaPierre a community organizer that could teach ACORN a thing or two.
In many ways, 2008 was the perfect storm for the NRA. For the first time in eight years, a Democrat won the Presidency. Democrats are reputed to be soft on crime and hard on guns, despite the fact that the last major piece of gun control legislation, the Brady Bill, was supported by both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Neither Senator nor candidate Barack Obama was particularly strong on gun rights. But, as a Constitutional expert, he felt that gun control was basically out of the hands of the Federal Government.
In 2008, we still had two wars that were going strong. We had an economy on the verge of collapse. We were still reeling from 9/11 and from an administration that spent eight years telling us to live in fear. Gun sales surged after Obama’s election. The voice of the NRA became more powerful than ever.
Last year, Gabrielle Giffords, a member of Congress, was shot in the head by a crazy man in a Safeway parking lot. Giffords may have been the highest profile victim of a mass shooting, but she was just one victim in a type of crime that is becoming all too commonplace in the American landscape.
Gabrielle Giffords, like James Brady, was fortunate to live through the shooting. Many victims of mass gun murders haven’t. Unlike when Brady was shot, an attempt at a dialogue about responsible gun ownership fell relatively flat.
President Obama talked about responsible gun ownership, which essentially meant stricter background checks to rule out those with mental illnesses. While I would imagine that even the most avid gun enthusiasts would be for the idea of keeping guns out of the hands of insane people, even that was too much for LaPierre, or so he said.
The reality is that LaPierre is almost entirely in lockstep with Obama’s response to the Giffords’ shooting. The New York Times quotes LaPierre as saying,
“It shouldn’t be a dialogue about guns; it really should be a dialogue about dangerous people,” Mr. LaPierre said, adding that his group has supported proposals to prevent gun sales to the mentally ill, strengthen a national system of background checks and spur states to provide needed data.
However, when invited to sit down with the President to talk about the issue, LaPierre had this to say,
“Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?”
Facts simply don’t back up LaPierre’s statement. Not only has Obama not strengthened gun laws, he’s loosened them. In 2010, he signed a bill allowing guns in National Parks.
Obama is nothing if not a savvy politician. First off, an unwritten rule of politics is that red meat issues, like gun control, tend to rally Republicans far more than Democrats. Besides, many Democrats love guns. In a recent Gallup Poll, 47% of Americans admitted to owning guns and so did 40% of Democrats. If Social Security is the third rail of politics, talk of gun control is an almost fatal shot to the heart of a politician’s career.
Despite growing gun violence, the issue is simply not first and foremost on the minds of the people who would be supportive of stricter gun control.
One rallying cry of gun advocates is, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” While they are right that “people kill people,” that’s only part of the picture. Poverty is a direct cause of gun violence, but an issue that Republicans and even few Democrats dare to address. In fact, Republicans frame talk of poverty as “class warfare.” The Republican platform is vehemently against any sort of anti-poverty measures, like affordable education and guaranteed health care, benefits offered in most of the industrialized world and in the countries that have significantly lower gun rates than ours. The US has the seventh highest rate of gun homicides in the world. The US also ranks near the bottom in wealth inequality, meaning that while our wealth as a nation is immense, very little of that wealth makes it to the poorest among us, theoretically driving many to crime as a way to survive.
Mass gun violence, the type seen at Columbine or when Gabrielle Giffords was shot, is not as directly a result of poverty, but it can be traced to a woefully inadequate healthcare system; a system that views mental health as unrelated to overall health and a system that views overall healthcare as a luxury. Gun advocates are right. People do kill people.
But guns also kill people. Gun owning households are three times more likely to experience homicide than non-gun owning households yet the training and testing required to shoot a gun is far less than the requirements for driving a car. Still, the NRA has effectively shut down all talk of gun licensing, even if nothing else, simply teaching gun owners how to best keep them out of the hands of children.
For now, all talk of gun control has been stifled. LaPierre and the NRA know they are untouchable, but still, LaPierre creates enemies where there are no enemies. The world of psychology might call this paranoia, but for the NRA, it’s simply good business and it’s the only way they will drum up support against a not-anti-gun Democratic President.