THE NRA’S REAL MISSION: Over the last four years, the only gun laws that Congress and the Obama administration have enacted have been laws further deregulating gun use. It’s no secret why—as pundits love to note, the gun lobby is incredibly influential. But as we consider potential reforms in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, one of the first questions we must ask is: Whom does the gun lobby really represent?
The National Rifle Association claims to be a group representing “4 million members” who simply love the Second Amendment. In reality, it is composed of a half-dozen legal entities, some designed to run undisclosed attack ads in political campaigns, others to lobby and collect tens of millions of dollars in undisclosed, tax-deductible sums. This power has arguably been enhanced by Citizens United, with GOP donors in the last election reportedly funneling money to the NRA simply to use the group as a weapon against Democrats.
Despite the NRA’s grassroots façade, there’s plenty of evidence that corporations profiting from unregulated gun use are propping up the NRA, much as the tobacco lobby secretly funded “smokers’ rights” groups. In a “special thanks” to donors, the NRA Foundation listed Bushmaster Firearms, the company that makes the assault rifle used in the Connecticut murders.
The Violence Policy Center has estimated that since 2005, gun manufacturers have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA. Those numbers, however, are based on the publicly listed sponsorship levels in NRA fundraising pamphlets. The real figures could be much bigger: the NRA doesn’t disclose any donor information, even though it spends millions of dollars on federal elections. And like other industry fronts, the NRA is quick to present its policy positions as principled, idealistic commitments. Its “Civil Rights Defense Fund,” for example, is “involved in court cases establishing legal precedents in favor of gun owners.” Who picks the cases? Defense Fund board members like James W. Porter II, an attorney specializing in “areas of products liability defense” for gun manufacturers. His last client, according to the federal court docket, was Smith & Wesson.
Is the NRA working to support the interests of casual gun owners, many of whom favor tougher restrictions on gun ownership? Or does it serve the gunmakers’ lobby, which is purely interested in policies that promote gun sales? Any policy debate should begin with this question. LEE FANG
OCCUPY THE GUN LOBBY: In recent months, Occupy Wall Street has proven to be a versatile force, capable of tackling issues from Hurricane Sandy to crippling debt. Now, an offshoot of Occupy says it plans to unleash the power of the 99 percent on the National Rifle Association. In the wake of the Newtown massacre, the group launched a Facebook page, “Occupy the NRA,” which currently has more than 5,000 likes. The group’s first post was a picture of assault weapons with overlaid text: “The US has 5% of the world’s population, but accounts for half of all firearms worldwide and 80% of the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries.” Another post lists contact information for NRA board members and encourages people to get in touch with them and ask “how many more children, parents, sisters, and brothers must die before they’ll agree to truly effective gun control.”
“We want to put the gun control debate front and center and get the facts out there,” co-founder Mark Provost told Current TV. Over the long term, he added, “we will be protesting NRA meetings…and we will be putting public pressure on Congress.” Provost is part of New Hampshire Occupy, a chapter that has its own complicated relationship with guns.
Occupy isn’t the only group demanding action against the gun lobby. CREDO Mobile tweeted a call for protests on December 17, and a Craigslist post called for a flash mob to descend on the NRA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Peaceful candlelight vigils have popped up from Times Square to the White House, where protesters carried signs reading: “If a pre-school child hits another child with a rock, the solution is not for every child to have a rock!”; “Mr. President: We are praying for your action”; and “#TodayIsTheDay, #TodayIsTheDay, #TodayIsTheDay.” ALLISON KILKENNY
ALEC AND GUNS: It’s easy to blame the National Rifle Association for the horror in Newtown. But the NRA never walks alone: it has a powerful ally at the level of government, where many of the most meaningful interventions against violence can be made. The American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch-guided group that aligns corporations with lawmakers to introduce “model legislation,” has long tried to shut down public debate about gun control. Though it’s best known for advocating the “stand your ground” laws that became a subject of controversy after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, ALEC undermines debates about gun violence in many other ways. Its “Resolution on Semi-Automatic Firearms” opposes restricting the sale of assault weapons. A “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” discourages efforts by law enforcement to purchase weapons only from manufacturers that improve gun safety, as well as efforts to limit public contracting to gun dealers who do not have a record of selling weapons used in crimes. In 2011, ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force unanimously adopted a proposal to prohibit cities from banning machine guns.
Many corporations left ALEC after the Trayvon Martin shooting. But many more, including ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, UPS and AT&T, remain members and sponsors. Along with legislators, these corporations make ALEC possible. If we are ever going to take action on guns, we must reject those seeking to pre-empt debate and stop the government from responding to the heartbroken cries of Americans for a real response to gun violence. JOHN NICHOLS
WINNING LABOR REPORTING: Congratulations to ace labor reporter Josh Eidelson, who won the December Sidney Award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation for his tenacious coverage of Walmart. “Josh was the first to report the arrest of an ex-Walmart worker organizing at his store… as well as the first to share photos showing Walmart goods at the site of the tragic factory fire in Bangladesh,” the foundation noted. “Perhaps most important, Eidelson has brought voices of Walmart workers to the center of the conversation.”
Don’t miss Josh Eidelson’s “The Great Walmart Walkout.”