I have strongly criticized ludicrous gun enforcement that criminalizes ordinary citizens, but I also support Mayor Bloomberg’s and Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ (a coalition of over 700 Mayors of American cities and towns) efforts to Demand a Plan to reduce gun violence.
However, whatever our individual views, broad agreement on the proper level of gun regulation will be difficult because:
1. Americans Are Divided On the Issue of Guns – According to a Pew Research poll conducted after Newtown, 42% of Americans strongly believe gun control is more important than gun rights. However, about 37% believe gun rights are more important than gun control. A significant number of American citizens reject even the most basic limitations on gun rights. And such citizens vote for candidates based on this strongly-held issue. Citizens supporting gun control, however, don’t let that issue determine how they choose their representatives.
2. Gun Advocacy Groups are Well-Funded - Because many Americans are passionate about gun rights, groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) have the resources for a prolonged fight. The NRA’s annual budget is ~$300 million and it has 4 million members. It’s one of the largest, and most powerful, advocacy groups in America. For example, the NRA outspends gun control advocacy groups, in lobbying expenses, by 10 to 1. Many NRA members disagree with the NRA’s position on gun control, but they all receive its mailings – giving the NRA a massive platform to highlight (positively or negatively) any politician (or issue) it targets. As a consequence, few politicians are willing to risk the NRA’s ire by supporting gun control legislation.
3. Americans Increasingly Live in Belief Communities – As the Pew Research data illustrates, Americans are deeply divided on gun issues. But these two groups of Americans don’t talk with each other. They often live in very different regions, and (in many cases) exist in sub-cultures where they only talk with, and get news from, people who share their beliefs. This separation of our society into different Belief Communities, on issues such as gun rights, makes it difficult for our political leaders to find effective compromises.
4. Even Assuming a Clear Majority Favors Gun Control, the American Political System Protects the Rights of Political Minorities – Gun rights groups will have many opportunities to oppose gun control legislation, whether through: filibustering in the Senate; preventing legislation from ever coming to a vote in the House (where a gun rights-sympathetic GOP has a majority of votes); adding amendments that reduce the effectiveness of any gun control legislation enacted; preventing funding for enforcement of such new legislation; or 2nd Amendment challenges to any legislation in the courts.
5. The NRA is Deeply Embedded in the Republican Party – It’s not clear whether the NRA controls the GOP, or the GOP controls the NRA. What’s very clear is that the two organizations are tightly intertwined. According to OpenSecrets.org, about 90% of the NRA’s political contributions go to the GOP. The NRA board is dominated by conservatives/GOP operatives such as: Grover Norquist, Larry “wide stance” Craig, Bob Barr and other Washington insiders/lobbyists.
For example, the only gun legislation President Obama signed during his first term – actually changed existing law to permit concealed weapons in America’s parks. President Obama was given a grade of F, by gun control groups, for his failure to support gun control legislation. Despite this, instead of remaining neutral in the 2012 elections, the NRA endorsed Romney-Ryan (in very apocalyptic terms, see below) and spent almost $20 million attempting to defeat Democrats/President Obama. These deep Republican connections give the NRA immense leverage in any Congressional negotiations about gun control.
6. Most GOP Congressional Representatives are from Conservative Safe Districts, Where Gun Rights Supporters are Concentrated – Congressional Republicans received only 48% of the votes cast – but acquired 53% of the seats – due to gerrymandering and safe seats. Whether these Republican representatives are true believers, or moderates who fear a primary challenge – they will oppose gun control as commanded by the NRA.
7. The NRA Feeds, and Is Fed by, GOP Paranoia – I believe many Americans who voted for Romney were nonetheless appalled by the tone of the NRA statement endorsing Romney-Ryan:
“Today, we live in an America that is getting harder to recognize every day led by a President who mocks our values, belittles our faith, and is threatened by our freedom.”
Further, the NRA claims President Obama is part of a conspiracy (involving the United Nations) to confiscate all of America’s guns. The NRA’s policy has been to align itself with the worst elements of the American right and to feed their dangerous paranoia. I’m referring to the: approximately 25% of Republicans who believe Obama was not born in the US; and the staggering 50% of Republicans who believe the 2012 election was stolen by President Obama using voter fraud, even though Romney lost by a significant margin. This fact-resistant base can be manipulated to do the NRA’s bidding.
8. A Fight Over Gun Control Is Exactly What the NRA Wants – The NRA is a gun rights advocacy group. Its major basis for fund-raising is its claim that gun rights are threatened. It thrives on conflict, not on compromise. The NRA will, no doubt, feature its opposition to any proposed gun control legislation in fund-raising appeals to its base.
9. The NRA is Highly Lucrative for Its Leaders – Consequently, the NRA’s leadership will likely resist solutions which permanently resolve gun control issues. Wayne LaPierre is paid ~$1 million/year, and has been the CEO for about 20 years. The NRA’s chief political strategist and lobbyist is paid about $600,000/year; its other officers also receive lucrative compensation packages. Compromise, and a permanent solution to America’s gun discussion, wouldn’t be good for their compensation. If a broad compromise were reached, removing gun control from the political agenda for the next 20 years – why would the NRA need LaPierre and a highly-paid lobbying staff?
10. President Obama Faces Multiple Challenges and Must Prioritize – The president needs GOP cooperation to: resolve the fiscal cliff; obtain confirmation of new cabinet officers; handle potential conflicts in the Middle East; undertake long-term entitlement reform; achieve immigration reform and much else. Gun control legislation could be lost in the shuffle or, as part of some grand bargain, sacrificed entirely.
Real and effective solutions are possible, but achieving them will be a tough battle.