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Up Against the NRA

America

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Blood Money

"Every time there's a mass shooting in America there are calls for action to stop it from happening again. But any effort to introduce stricter gun laws always falters in the US Congress - and that's in large part because of the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA)”(Jon Sopel).

On February 14, 2018, 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida by a teenaged-shooter wielding a legally purchased semi-automatic rifle. The real life images that came across the television screen of cell phone video streaming the blood curdling screams of innocent victims leaves a civilized mind in shambles. Questions, uncertainties, and anxieties transfixes one’s own existence. Ultimately, it is a very unsettling thought to ascertain what one might do in such a situation.

The school had conducted drills in case an active shooter overtook their school, and the training possibly did save lives, but in the final analysis, a terrifying scenario occurred. One can safely say that the public knew who was involved, what took place, where it took place, and when it happened; but the “why” it happened requires more than a rudimentary statement of the facts.

In brief, the rampage shooting in South Florida happened because a 19-year-old white male was able to purchase a firearm and use it to kill 17 people and wound many more. He killed them in the manner he did because he was able to purchase and use a military style assault weapon with rapid firing capability. In a more thorough analysis, one must recognize that, over the past decade, the NRA has mutated into a not-so-silent partner for the firearms industry, whose profits are increasingly dependent on the sale of military-bred weapons like assault rifles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was able to legally purchase a weapon of this caliber when he was 18.

A Sketch of the NRA

The NRA spends millions of dollars to promote its programs. Ads, memberships, politicians, and fear tactics all support the image of the NRA as a much needed service. And as President Trump recently suggested, regarding the shooting in South Florida, good guys with guns in schools can stop bad guys with guns in schools. Accordingly, Trump proposed that teachers—the good guys—be armed while in the classroom. Still, on the other hand, Trump added that he will rethink the selling of assault weapons to 18-year-old consumers. The gun debacle appears to be a conundrum for our President.

Instead of trying to keep guns away from children, Republican lawmakers are arguing that a school is a “soft target” if it doesn’t have an arsenal of weapons at its disposal. All available data suggests, contrary to Trump, that a “good guy” with a gun will almost never be able to stop a “bad guy” with a gun; more guns in an in-progress massacre would only lead to more carnage.

Research points to the actuality that more guns means more death, so why do politicians get in front of the camera and tell the families of the victims how sorry they are, yet the politicians keep loosening the reigns on the NRA? One answer is money: The National Rifle Association is a famously rich and powerful lobbying group that fills conservative pockets with campaign cash. Likewise, the terror that has gripped elected officials is fear of the wealthy gun lobby, to which they have let themselves be held hostage for decades.

The NRA can tap into unlimited donations from individuals and corporations to engage in direct political advocacy. The association has spent over $1 million on elections in the 2018 cycle, according to Open Secrets. It also spent $30 million to back President Trump in the 2016 presidential race, while spending millions on anti-Clinton campaigns.

"The industry has changed," according to Tom Diaz, former Democratic counsel to the House subcommittee on crime, a longtime gun-violence policy analyst and author of, The Last Gun. He said, "In terms of what sells and what is marketed most successfully, we're now talking about guns that are derived directly from military design." Likewise, according to Tim Dickinson in a Rolling Stone article, "The NRA vs. America," “Of the top 15 gun manufacturers, 11 now manufacture assault weapons, many of them variants of the AR-15 – derived from a military rifle designed to kill enemy soldiers at close-to-medium range with little marksmanship. The industry loves these modern sporting rifles because they can be tricked out with expensive scopes, loaders, lights and lasers.”

Equally concerning is the argument that the NRA receives funds directly from the sales of arms and ammunition that are put straight into the hands of mass murderers. The "Round-Up" program, launched by arms retailer Midway USA, encourages customers to increase their purchases to the nearest dollar and sends the extra coins to the association. On Sunday, March 4, 2018, MSNBC cited the NRA as receiving over a billion dollars a year in firearm sales.

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The NRA has always been actively involved in recruiting youth. “We wish to ensure the future of the shooting sports by providing proper tools and resources to America's young people”, according to the NRA’s website. However, mental health professionals maintain that adolescents do not have the emotional maturity to handle the power a weapon yields nor the developmental prudence that comes with the sport (Perri Klass). Pediatricians as a group have long been concerned about the psychological effects of exposure to violence and the culture of gun violence. Adolescents are more impulsive than adults. A young brain doesn’t fully mature until the early 20s, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (2017, Tampa Bay Times). Yet, the NRA is aggressively advocating for lawmakers to maintain 18 as the legal age to purchase an assault weapon.

Second Amendment Rights

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and author of The Second Amendment: A Biography, underscores that today at the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, oversized letters on the facade no longer refer to marksmanship and safety. Instead, the Second Amendment is emblazoned on a wall of the building’s lobby. Visitors might not notice that the text is incomplete. It reads:

“.. The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The first half—the part about the well-regulated militia—has been edited out.

“Fraud on the American public” is how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an individual the unimpeded right to a gun. The U.S. Supreme Court did not rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when the District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law, effectively banning handguns in the home (Waldman). In this landmark case, the Supreme Court of the United States held, in a 5–4 decision, “…that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense ...” And herein lies the NRA’s constitutional blanket of approval for private gun ownership.

The Second Amendment has been tossed around like a Frisbee at a park, and its meaning bears little consensus among gun-owners and anti-gun-owners alike. However, according to Hanna Levintova, “…most judges and scholars who debate the amendment’s awkwardly worded and oddly punctuated 27 words in the decades before Heller almost always arrived at the opposite conclusion, finding that the amendment protects gun ownership for purposes of military duty and collective security. The amendment was drafted in the first years of post-colonial America, an era of scrappy citizen militias where the idea of a standing army—like that of the just-expelled British—evoked deep mistrust”.

“[The] weapons of today that are easily accessible are vastly different than anything that existed in 1791. When the Second Amendment was written, the Founders didn't have to weigh the risks of one man killing 49 and injuring 53 all by himself. Now we do, and the risk-benefit analysis of 1791 is flatly irrelevant to the risk-benefit analysis of today” (David S. Cohen).

Politicians, Be Wary of Public Sentiment

A day after the massacre, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said, “If someone has decided ‘I'm going to commit this crime,’ they will find a way to get the gun to do it.” A nice detour for Rubio instead of openly conceding that the National Rifle Association spent $3.2 million in campaign spending on the Florida senator’s 2016 re-election campaign; thereby, making it legal for a troubled 18-year-old Nikolas Cruz to get his hands on an assault weapon in the State of Florida.

Chicago Tribune reporter, Rex Hupke, states, “So we’re led to accept that a school shooter like the one in South Florida was going to get his hands on a gun as lethal as an AR-15 no matter what. There’s nothing Rubio or any gun law could have done to help. Are you sure about that, Sen. Rubio? … Are you absolutely sure?

Igor Volsky, director of the gun control advocacy group Guns Down, tells us that calling out members of Congress on their gun lobby funding can have a powerful effect on members of the public, who are growing increasingly angry at the failure to pass stricter gun control legislation. Public opinion tends to reign supreme in a Democracy. Abraham Lincoln, while debating slavery, said in 1858, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.” The triumph of gun rights reminds us today: If you want to win in the court of law, first win in the court of public opinion (Politico).

Once public sentiment overwhelms the three branches of government with shouts from sea to shiny sea over the use of military style weapons being sold to teens, over the use of these weapons being used in rampage shootings; and over the blood money being funneled by the NRA to buy politicians, then the court of public opinion might put an end to this reign of terror.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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