Stick ’em up! That’s what the NRA continues to say as it holds the United States of America hostage with the Second Amendment as its gun.
The NRA is embracing the one right that it recognizes as sacrosanct and elevating it above all others. By doing so, it is perfectly willing and committed to limiting the American citizens’ “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The most recent example of the NRA’s assault-style behavior using the Second came on March 9 when it filed a lawsuit in federal court to block a new Florida school safety and gun limits law that Governor Rick Scott had just signed on that day. The suit asserted, among other things, that the law was depriving 18–21 year olds of their Second Amendment rights.
The NRA had to be very surprised — startled perhaps — by the fact that a gun law of any type had gotten through the Florida legislature. Because of the work for more than forty years by Marion Hammer, NRA’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, Florida had become possibly the most gun-friendly state in the nation. It is widely reported that this was due to Ms. Hammer’s vise-like grip on all legislation directed at gun control over that time period.
This new bill, which Ms. Hammer has referred to as “political eye wash,” showed that grip has weakened. Recognizing this, the NRA determined that if it could no longer get its way with the state legislature, it would take it to a federal court and do so without hesitation or deliberation.
This action by the NRA is consistent with its aggressive approach to smacking down anything “infringing” on unlimited gun rights. On the other hand, it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of American gun owners in general or of many NRA members themselves.
According to a Pew survey released in June 2017, nearly 3 in 10 gun owners say that the NRA has too much influence over the nation’s gun laws; only one-third supported “Constitutional” carry laws that allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit; and over 50% supported creating a national federal database to track gun sales. A new Monmouth University pollreleased in the week of March 5 showed that nearly 70% of NRA members were in favor of comprehensive background checks for gun purchasers.
While there may be considerable differences of opinions among gun owners and NRA members, there is none in the mind of the NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. There is a certitude that legislation placing restrictions of any type that relates to guns in any way violates the Second Amendment.
Wayne LaPierre has been at the NRA for more than a quarter of a century. For most of that time he has been presenting his version of our Second Amendment rights with attack-style rhetoric and gratuitous name calling against those with different views. He doesn’t use a handgun; he goes after his opposition with his full-throated equivalent of an AR-15 or AK-47.
LaPierre’s address to CPAC in Washington, D.C. shortly after the mass killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL provides a classic example of his approach. He began his speech with some hollow comments about his feelings for the victims at the high school and their families.
After that, he launched almost immediately into a diatribe against the real culprits who had created the conditions that precipitated this slaughter. They included the media, socialism engendered by the Democratic Party, and selected elected officials such as Cory Booker and Andrew Cuomo.
He added to this list “the elitists who do not care one whit about America’s school system and school children. If they cared, what they would do is they would protect them. For them it is not a safety issue, it is a political issue.”
For a moment, we thought LaPierre, an elitist himself who earns in excess of seven figures annually and lives quite comfortably in a large home in ex-urban Virginia, was offering a self-indictment. Then we came to our senses and realized that he was doing what he always does after a major gun incident.
That is to speak out to try to change the narrative and engage in a form of mind control. That control is directed at reinforcing the beliefs of the avid NRA gun rights proponents while attempting to reduce the concerns of the American public writ large regarding the need for gun control.
It might seem that combative and mostly untruthful comments regarding tragedies involving guns would have little sway over the perception of the average citizen. That is not necessarily the case.
The Pew Research Center began tracking opinions on gun control in 1993. In that year, 57% of the public felt it was “more important to control gun ownership” versus only 35% who felt it was “more important to protect the rights of Americans who own guns.”
In subsequent polls from ’93 until 2005, the percentage of those seeing “controlling gun ownership” as more important ranged from a high of 66% to a low of 54%. Since then the divide between those who see gun control as more important and those who see gun ownership as more important has been close to equal. The last poll conducted in April of 2017 showed 51% supporting gun control and 47% supporting gun rights.
The gun control/gun rights gap has narrowed substantially. It is impossible to ascertain whether this is due to the NRA’s efforts. It is possible, on the other hand, to assess the impact of the NRA on state legislators and Congressional leaders by following the money contributed to them.
Story after story out of DC has reported on how efforts at gun control in the nation’s capitol “collide with political reality.” A large part of that reality is that so many legislators, mainly Republicans, receive NRA money. Some receive a large amount of money.
On February 21, a group called Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund ran a full page ad in the New York Times listing the names of hundreds of senators and representatives who took NRA money in 2017. A number of Republican Senators got six figure contributions. Seven Republicans were in the seven figure club including: Tom Cotton, AK; Marco Rubio, FL; and Roy Blunt, MO.
All of these individuals receive high ratings for their support of the NRA. To borrow and modify a phrase, when they’ve got your money, their hearts and minds must follow.
Moving from mind control to mental illness is not difficult for the NRA. The mental illness claim as the problem to be dealt with rather than guns is always the fall-back position for the NRA to divert attention from talking about gun control.
There is only one problem with this tactic. Research has shown that mental illness is not the primary cause of mass shootings or gun murders.
Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox analyzed data on individuals who have killed four or more people since 1966 and found that only 14.8% had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. Based upon his studies, Duke University Professor Jeffrey Swanson concluded that even if we were able to cure schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression overnight, violent crime in the U.S. would fall by only 4%.
What the research shows conclusively, however, as Dylan Matthews reports in his excellent Vox article is that “countries with higher gun ownership rates have more gun deaths.” And the United States stands light years ahead of other nations in terms of gun ownership and the use of guns in homicides.
Given all of this, why do we as a nation find it impossible to implement what might seem to be reasonable gun control measures? Is this intractable condition completely attributable to the NRA and its efforts at mind control?
The NRA definitely plays a role. But, there is also something about our mental health as a gun culture nation that plays into this as well.
Consider the following case study from the U.K. There have been only two mass shootings there since records began being kept in 1969. The first was the Hungerford Massacre in 1987 which resulted in 16 people being killed and 15 wounded. The second was the Dunblane School Massacre in 1996 which resulted in the killing of 16 students and a teacher.
After the Hungerford Massacre, the U.K. banned semiautomatic rifles and placed tight restrictions on the ownership of shotguns. After the Dunblane Massacre, the UK banned all handguns except single loading .22 pistols.
Gun deaths in the U.K. today with a population of 52 million are 50 to 60 per year. Gun deaths in the U.S with a population approximately 6 times larger than the U.K. are about 160 times higher.
This huge difference is acceptable or tolerable to the American public in general because we tend to be in a state of cognitive dissonance regarding guns. In January 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Time/CNN/ORC International conducted a national poll that revealed fairly strong support for a number of gun control measures ranging from background checks for gun purchases and gun registration to a ban on high-capacity clips and assault weapons. The same poll showed that more survey respondents agreed (48%) with the positions of the NRA on a number of issues than disagreed (42%).
The Pew research study done in June of 2017 disclosed similarities and dissimilarities among gun owners and NRA members. It also showed that there were major differences of opinions by party affiliation, with Democratic gun owners/NRA members being more favorable to gun control measures than Republican gun owners. This is the same type of bipolar split that has increased significantly on almost all “political” issues over the past decade.
Add paranoia to cognitive dissonance and bipolarity as the state of our nation’s mental health when it comes to guns. The paranoid are those NRA members and gun owners who have an irrational fear that there is a large group of citizens who want to take their rights to guns away.
There is absolutely no evidence of that. Reasonable gun control — yes. Elimination of guns or gun rights altogether — no.
In spite of this, the NRA advances its absolutist agenda with regard to virtually unrestricted and uncontrolled rights to guns. Wayne LaPierre repeatedly asserts, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The only response to this, as the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are teaching us, is to answer: The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun are good guys and gals who promote gun control.
The issue is gun control versus mind control. The issue is the NRA versus the voice of the people. The issue is mental health versus mental illness.
The time is now to exercise all of our rights as citizens to ensure a safer America and to no longer be seduced or bludgeoned into believing that one right trumps all others.