This is a guest column by Dr. Art Kamm, whose Apex, NC-based blog, Art on Issues, is dedicated to his study of many topics including, but not limited to, debt, deficits, economy, leadership, healthcare, climate, politics, hunger, intolerance — and extremism in America and in our government. He can be reached on Twitter at @artonissues and on Facebook.
The extremist position the NRA leadership takes in opposing virtually all gun control regulation, along with its associated anti-diversity rhetoric, has placed it at odds with the majority of gun owners, including its own membership, as well as an increasingly diverse America. It is only a matter of time before politicians will find it necessary to distance themselves from the organization to keep or achieve political office. A multi-pronged political approach now exists that can compel lawmakers into taking action to curb gun violence in America.
The NRA holds a powerful lobbying presence on Capital Hill and has enjoyed success with its legislative agenda to expand public exposure to weaponry despite large numbers of citizens, including children and adolescents, losing their lives in numerous mass shootings, often involving high-powered weaponry (a timeline of mass shootings since Columbine is provided here). However, the organization finds itself increasingly at odds with gun owners (both NRA and non-NRA members), as well as the general public in key swing states, who disagree with the organization’s hardline anti-gun control approach.
As a result, candidates for political office who support the NRA’s market expansion ‘guns anywhere/anytime’ policies have become increasingly ultraconservative, extremist, and thus carry with them a host of associated social beliefs and behaviors that a growing diversity in America finds offensive – anti-diversity beliefs that are echoed by the NRA’s very leadership. Although such candidates have had success during special interest-driven and highly partisan low-turnout primaries, they can (and have) failed in general elections where a more moderate, diverse and broad swath of America shows up at the polls.
Politicians who continue to do the NRA’s bidding will increasingly find themselves susceptible to political attack not only from the burgeoning public demand for sensible gun control legislation, but from the associated ultraconservative social positions that many of these candidates and the NRA publicly voice – extremist positions that contributed to the defeat of several NRA ‘A’ rated candidates this past election.
The NRA’s extremist views on gun control and social issues will become increasingly toxic to politicians, both new and incumbent, who will eventually find it necessary to distance themselves from the organization if they wish to survive politically in a changing America.
The NRA has become its own worst enemy. The implosion of its agenda is but a matter of time. And, with some political will, that can be expedited.
To contend that there is not a gun violence problem in America is absurd
A week ago Bob Costas stepped forward to say that we need to have a dialog on the “gun culture” in this country following a firearm murder/suicide involving an NFL player. No sooner did he issue his comments during the half-time broadcast of a National Football League game than he came under attack from prominent conservative figures and faced a ‘shout down’ by right wing media including Fox News and the Drudge Report. Jon Stewart had a field day taking on the conservative media critics in a Daily Show segment entitled “Any Given Gun Day”. But Mr. Costas may get his wish, not from his reasoned plea, but rather from the horrific killing of 20 young children by gunman at an elementary school in Connecticut that has reignited the gun control debate.
That we have a gun violence problem in America is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of fact. To say otherwise is an absurdity and an offense to common sense. The gun violence issue in America is supported by a wealth of statistics, some of which follow.
Out of 75 listed countries, the United States ranks 12th regarding firearm-related death rate, being exceeded only by El Salvador, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, Swaziland, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, Philippines, and South Africa. In 2000 the US recorded close to 11,000 firearm homicides while the European Union, having a population about 25% greater than the US at the time, recorded fewer than 1300 firearm homicides. And the imbalance continues into more recent times. In 2009, for example, the US reported 9,146 firearm-related murders whereasGreat Britain (GB) reported only 39 (equivalent to 195 US gunfire murders). In that same article, the US reported a total of 15,241 murders (2009) as opposed to only 648 in GB (equivalent to 3,240 in the US) thus shattering the myth that if access to guns is more restricted that people would simply find other ways to kill one another. Claims regarding a substitution effect for guns in murder (i.e., people in other countries find other ways to kill one another) has not been supported by multiple international comparisons as cited by Jean Lemaire, professor of Actuarial Science, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (reference section 4.3). Guns make it a far easier matter to take another’s life.
Greater availability of guns has been associated with a higher level of death in children by accidental shooting: ”When researchers studied the 30,000 accidental gun deaths of Americans of all ages that occurred between 1979-1997, they found that preschoolers aged 0-4 were 17 times more likely to die from a gun accident in the 4 states with the most guns versus the 4 states with the least guns. Likewise, school kids aged 5-14 were over 13 times more at risk of accidental firearm death in the states with high gun ownership rates. The findings indicate that gun availability is associated with accidental death by shooting”. Also, it has been known since the 1990′s that US children under the age of 15 are at many times the risk of dying from gunfire (homicides, suicides, accidental shootings) than those in 25 other industrialized countries. The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified firearm-related injury as one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in minors and has described such as being ‘epidemic’.
Gunfire deaths are now roughly equivalent to automobile fatalities in the US (actually exceeding auto fatalities in at least 10 states) despite many more households owning cars than guns. Despite the demand from the gun lobby regarding the right of ‘law abiding citizens’ to carry concealed guns to defend themselves, CCW permit holders aloneaccount for the loss of more innocent US civilian lives in non-self defense shootings each year than the total gunfire homicides being reported in some other industrialized nations – and those findings, being derived largely from news media reports, are held to be a considerable underestimate as the gun lobby is becoming increasingly effective in obstructing access to permit holder identification. This finding raises the question as to what loss of innocent civilian life at the hands of CCW permit holders are our lawmakers asking that we tolerate so that these permit holders can defend themselves? And, it has been estimated that gunfire-related deaths in the US decreases male life expectancy more than the total of all prostate and colon cancer deaths with the aggregate estimated cost as high as $100 billion annually. This disproportionate loss of life by gunfire in the US accounts for more than 25% of our decreased life expectancy relative to other wealthy nations (see section 4.1).
There is no debate that America suffers a gun violence problem. The time for dialog on the matter is overdue. This is not about banning guns. It is a matter of how we reduce the disproportionate loss of life to gunfire that America experiences. As a civilized society we are obligated to take steps to prevent, best we can, individuals (who are heavily armed, often with high powered weaponry) from walking into movie theaters, places of worship, malls during holiday shopping season, schools, and political events, who randomly open fire inflicting mass casualties on an innocent and unsuspecting citizenry. It is immoral that our government has, time and again, failed to take steps to protect the US public from such incidents, an inaction that is nothing short of a dereliction of duty. As the Brady Campaign slogan says, we are better than this.
Increasingly Out Of Touch
Recent findings from a survey conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz shows a divide between gun owners and the NRA regarding the need for gun control. Gun owners, both NRA members and non-NRA members, showed overwhelming support for gun control measures that keep guns out of the hands of criminals, requiring background checks for all gun buyers, barring terror suspects from firearm ownership, and reporting lost and stolen guns. All these measures are opposed by the NRA’s Washington office.
Additionally, a separate poll showed strong support amongst voters in three key swing states (Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado) for enhanced gun control measures; 64%, 74% and 71% of voters in Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, said that gun control should at least be a “somewhat important” priority for Obama. And in all three states, significant majorities called for requiring background checks for all gun buyers (88%), and preventing convicted offenders or domestic abusers from carrying concealed guns across state lines (55%).
Associated Extremist Positions
In examining the overwhelming support from both gun owners and the voting public for stronger gun control measures, it is fair to describe the NRA leadership’s position in opposing virtually all gun control legislation as being extremist. Ideological behaviors and beliefs are generally not confined to a singular issue, but are often bundled with other related behaviors. Such point was made by Garen Wintenmute, MD, who published an analysis of a large survey sample (15,000 respondents across eight states) that linked gun ownership and carrying a gun to heavy alcohol use. In that analysis it was shown that gun owners who carry a concealed weapon or have confronted another person with a gun were twice as likely to drink heavily than individuals who do not own guns. And gun owners who also drove or rode in motor vehicles with loaded guns were more than four times as likely to drink and drive as were people who did not own guns. Commenting on the findings, Dr. Wintemute stated: “It’s not surprising that risky behaviors go together. This is of particular concern given that alcohol intoxication also impairs a gun user’s accuracy as well as his judgment on whether to shoot”.
The same principle holds regarding the gun control issue. In taking a stance contrary to a large majority of gun owners and the general public on gun control measures, it is not surprising that this position is associated with other extremist views. This point is made clear by the numerous instances of NRA leadership issuing overtly racist,sexist, and LGBT-bashing statements over a period of many years as has been extensively documented by theCoalition to Stop Gun Violence’s “Meet the NRA” website. The NRA’s ties to extremism, racism and sexism has also been documented by the Violence Policy Center in an article entitled “NRA Family Values”.
It was not the gun control issue that brought down several NRA ‘A’ rated candidates at the polls, but rather these associated extremist views that proved offensive to an increasingly diverse America. It was Women’s Rights that brought down Todd Akin (NRA ‘A’ rated) who held the belief that if a woman was pregnant that it could not have been the result of a legitimate rape). The same was true for Richard Mourdock, NRA ‘A’ rated, who unseated Dick Lugar in a primary (Lugar would have easily won re-election as a Republican), but who lost the general election as he contended that a rape pregnancy was “something God intended to happen”. And Paul Ryan, also sporting a NRA ‘A’ rating, but whose economic policy and social views proved toxic to both his candidacy and party during the general election. Consider Ryan had his name as a co-sponsor, along with Todd Akin, on a Personhood at Conception bill; such legislation was voted down even in conservative Mississippi. And despite his statement during the vice presidential debate that he could not separate his faith (Roman Catholicism) from his public life, theCatholic Bishops decried Ryan’s budget that cut safety nets to the poor while supporting tax cuts to the wealthiest – hardly consistent with Christ’s teachings.
And there is a darker side to this matter regarding a political party whose leadership in Florida admitted that voter ID laws were actually voter suppression tactics designed to keep “underclass minorities” (who would support president Obama) from the polls. Consider that gun violence in America is not only the leading cause of death amongst black teens, but that the racial disparity in gunfire homicides is so great that it shortens the average life expectancy of a black male nearly one full year, while the average white male loses only 5 months (reference section 3). And NRA Board member Jeff Cooper speaks of his ‘disdain’ of ‘hyphenated Americans’? It’s time to pull the curtain back.
Compassionate pleas to curb the loss of life by gunfire in this country have, time and again, been insufficient in getting lawmakers (largely Republican who receive the overwhelming majority of NRA funding) to support reasonable gun control legislation. But the word compassion is not in the vocabulary and is thus ineffective. In a previous article “The Common Denominator of Right Wing Policy: Lost Lives” I noted that numerous conservative policies continue to be pursued despite the well-documented and often substantial loss of life associated with them. Such include refusing to reform our gun markets while at the same time expanding public exposure to weaponry despite over 30,000 citizens losing their lives to gunfire every year; opposing healthcare reform despite 45,000 Americans (and 2200 military veterans) losing their lives each year due to lack of access to essential care; continuing support of failed economic policy despite the marked rise in poverty it caused in recent times resulting in perhaps as many as 350,000 additional lost American lives each year (poverty does carry a death rate); discriminatory treatment of the LGBT community even though the extremist language and actions contribute to that class being by far the most susceptible to violent crime in our country; and, one yet to ripen, denial of man’s contribution to climate change that will have massive consequences to human life on a global level – this while representative Paul Broun (R-GA), who holds a position on the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, contends that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “all lies straight from the pit of Hell” and that the Earth is 9000 years old.
What moves politicians to take action is when their job is threatened. The time is right to go on the political offensive regarding gun control. Despite gun owners and the public calling for stronger gun control measures, elected Republican officials have remained near united in opposing the wishes of their constituencies. This is not dissimilar to what we are witnessing in the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate; the majority of Republican voters oppose keeping the Bush-era tax cuts in place for the wealthiest, yet 100% of their elected representatives in the Senate have opposed that tax increase (and there is doubt why their favorable/unfavorable rating has fallen to 30%/45% - minus 15 points?). This topic was more extensively considered in a previous article: “Our Unrepresentative Representation”.
To effect legislative change it is necessary to reframe the debate into one where opposing sensible gun control measures becomes onerous to elected officials or those seeking office. And it can work. In a test case, with the legal support of the Brady Center, I was successful in reframing a gun debate in NC where a ‘concealed guns in restaurants/bars’ bill was moved out of being a gun rights issue into a business liability and business owner rights matter thus eroding support in the business community (of which I have been a member). The work additionally helped support an oppose vote from the NC Bar Association. There were already enough compassionate pleas being made by advocacy groups to a legislature that would not listen. Rather, reframing the debate made the legislation onerous to both the business community as well as to lawmakers. Legal research showed the legislation to be in conflict with both state and federal law regarding business owner/employer obligations thus placing them at risk of liability. Interestingly, the research also concluded that the law was written in such a way that it constituted a violation of the owner’s First Amendment right not to speak. The bill never made it to the Senate floor despite passing the House with a veto proof vote.
In reframing the gun control debate, a call for stronger gun control is not about an attack on gun rights - it never has been. It has been about the overwhelming statistics showing a disproportionate loss of innocent US citizen life to gunfire; it is about protecting our children who lose their lives to gunfire at a far greater rate than children in other industrialized countries; it is about allowing our military veterans who suffer from combat-induced stress disorders and brain injury the opportunity to heal; it is about not poisoning our environment with thousands of tons of lead from gunfire each year that very painfully kill millions of animals that ingest the lead; it is about keeping guns out of the hands of those having a history of violent crime or mental illness that have shown time and again the ability to inflict massive casualties on our citizenry. The NRA has not only opposed all these issues, but has successfully lobbied to make it easier for convicted felons and the mentally ill to get their ‘gun rights’ reinstated in court. It is not about Second Amendment rights with that crowd. In reality it is nothing less than a manipulation of our constitution, to the financial benefit of the gun industry, at the expense of US lives.
A multi-pronged political strategy now exists that can make politicians pay the price for failing to comply with the wishes of both gun owners and the voting public in general. In some cases it will be possible to attack a ‘gun rights’ voting record head-on depending on the current climate and make-up of the district. In other cases candidates and incumbents can be taken to task on the associated extremist social views some have publicly embraced – behaviors that proved lethal to several at the polls this past election. And it is hard to imagine that some politicians, who accept NRA funding, would want to be publicly tied to the anti-diversity rhetoric that has been issued by that organization. It will only take political will to make this happen.
The NRA is in a tenuous position. Its implosion is only a matter of time and some politicians will, by necessity, begin to distance themselves from the organization to keep their office. It was shown in the past election that no amount of NRA funding could save the likes of Akin, Mourdock, Ryan and others. And if our elected officials still refuse to take reasonable steps to protect the public from gun violence (especially after this horrific loss of young life in Connecticut), we do have a path (with effective campaign tactics and groundwork) to hand some of them a pink slip at the polls and replace them with those that will.