SIX BILLION… According to the Center for Disease Control, that’s the number of reasons we had 11,493 firearm homicides in the United States in 2009, and the number of reasons why we can’t pass adequate legislation to control guns. The bottom line: that’s the number of dollars that the three hundred gun and ammunition manufacturers in this country make yearly. $6,000,000,000!!
Americans are under the impression that the National Rifle Association, an organization with just 4.3 million members, effectively blocks gun control legislation around the entire country. But how can such a relatively small organization have so much clout? After all, the American Association of Retired Persons has nearly nine times that membership—about 36,000,000—and it gets the pants beaten off of it when they try to negotiate a deal on prescription drugs. Why is the National Rifle Association so powerful?
The group’s dirty little secret is that, in spite of what it says in its promotional material, it DOES NOT represent the voice of the American gun owner. It’s not even particularly interested in Second Amendment rights. The NRA is all about its corporate ‘partners’—a portion of those three hundred gun and ammunition manufacturers who make $6 billion a year—and how to best protect the companies’ profits. To emphasize this goal, Pete Brownell, a board member of the NRA, is also the head of Brownells, the “world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories.”
Since 2005, corporations have contributed between $20 million and $52 million to the NRA; according to a study by the Violence Policy Center, 74% of those contributions are from the gun industry. Back in 1967, the NRA publicized itself as “not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers or with any businesses that deal in guns and ammunition.” Today, one part of the NRA website—the part about the kids’ program ‘Eddie Eagle’—still makes that statement. At the same time, they promote their “Ring of Freedom Corporate Partners Program” where different levels of contributions result in different perks to the companies involved. Executive vice president Wayne LaPierre promised in a promotional brochure that the Corporate Partners Program “is geared toward your company’s corporate interests.”
A majority of the NRA’s corporate partners who are in the weapons business make or sell them in their deadliest form: assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. In order for their business to grow, new need has to be created continually, and laws against them have to be deterred. Thus, America is being whipped into a frenzy of fear for the sake of profits. “Stand Your Ground” laws, for example, are designed to play into our fears of one another and prepare us to take matters, and weapons, into our own hands to keep ourselves ‘safe.’
The fear campaign has been effective. In 1990, when Gallup polling first addressed whether Americans favored stricter laws regarding gun sales, 78 percent said yes. A Gallup poll in October, 2011 showed that just 44 percent were in favor in 2010. In an encouraging sign, in Gallup’s latest poll, taken since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, 58% now want stricter laws governing the sale of firearms. And while only 44% favor banning assault weapons, the number supporting a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, containing more than 10 rounds, has leapt to 62%. Nearly all Americans, 92%, now want mandatory background checks at gun shows. These are the places to start with legislation.
The task of change is made extremely difficult because the membership of the NRA has been duped into believing that the organization is protecting their rights when their main interest is actually $6,000,000,000 in corporate profits—and the millions in donations—that come from the manufacture of guns. Unless Americans wake up to the fact that, once again, enormous profits are driving policy, young people like Trayvon Martin, Christina Taylor Green, and the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School will continue to die. Lawmakers shoulder much blame for believing they can’t be elected without the support of the NRA, and the money of their corporate partners, but the fact is that the American public has to muster the will to get those corporations out of the driver’s seat—and to wrestle the guns out of the hands of the paranoid and the insane.