Friday April 19, 2013

In case it wasn’t too clear up to this point, Wednesday’s vote on gun control legislation proves the National Rifle Association owns much of the U.S. Senate.

While 90 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center supported universal background checks, 45 senators decided they know better than to respect that sentiment and instead bowed to the very real firepower the NRA wields to make or break a politician’s career.

Since 1998, the NRA has expended $28.2 million in lobbying and had on its roster between 16 and 35 lobbyists a year. It contributed $3.3 million for individual campaigns and $44 million on independent efforts in support of its approved candidates in the last three federal elections.

But, wrote Sam Stein and Paul Blumenthal for the Huffington Post, those numbers are small peanuts when compared to the number of people the NRA can mobilize in support of its positions.

"The groups engaged, dues-paying members can be activated on short notice," they wrote. "Several (Capitol Hill) staffers noted how office phone systems would be overwhelmed with calls and complaints. Usually, all the NRA had to do was to remind a lawmaker of its position and the chips fell into place."

Stein and Blumenthal looked at how the NRA was able to earn a "carve out" for the gun lobby in the 2010 Disclose Act, which was intended in part to address the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of anonymous cash into the country’s campaign cycles.


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The Disclose Act, which was designed to increase transparency in campaign contributions, eventually fell victim to the threat of a Republican filibuster. Nonetheless, wrote Stein and Blumenthal, the NRA’s work in removing the gun lobby from the Disclose Act’s requirements is indicative of its firepower.

"What’s remarkable ... is how little lobbying the NRA actually had to do in order to get its way," they wrote. "The group’s power in the halls of Congress is so evident that it is rarely challenged."

Chris Kofinis, the former chief of staff to West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, said the NRA wields its "threat of response" when other lobbying groups would just throw money around.

"The idea is that if you come out for any type of gun control, any type of common-sense reform, they are going to come after you, especially if you are a red-state Democrat," Kofinis told Stein and Blumenthal. "And they will paint you with a broad brush as being anti-gun."

But not only does the NRA have the firepower to kill any legislation it is opposed to, it can also ram through with ease any legislation it feels supports its mission to get as many guns as possible into as many hands as possible in as many places as possible.

As a result of the NRA’s efforts: Guns were allowed into national parks; a provision was added to Obamacare that prevented insurers from charging a higher premium to those with guns in their homes; and Amtrak passengers were allowed to put weapons in checked bags.

And even though universal background checks failed to get the 60 votes necessary to get out of the Senate, two other amendments that had NRA support were approved with very little fanfare: One was a provision to bar state and local governments from releasing information about gun ownership and the other was to improve mental health services.

Those two amendments are moot now, however, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada, pulled the bill from consideration in an effort to preserve it for future consideration.

"(The president) and I agree that the best way to keep working toward passing a background check bill is hit a pause, and freeze the background check bill where it is," said Reid. "It’s only a matter to time before we bring this anti-gun violence measure back to the floor for a vote. The stand of Republicans is not sustainable."

While we respect Sen. Reid’s train of thought, the Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, will continue to kowtow to the NRA and its awesome firepower.

When a 4.5-million-member organization can set legislative priorities at will and the voices of the rest of America are drowned out by hateful rhetoric, it’s time to take a cold hard look at the system. The NRA truly defines to what extent our political system has been prostituted out. It is the perfect example of how corporate and other special interests have taken over our democracy and made it bend to their wishes.

We take heart in the fact that not only do 90 percent of Americans approve of universal background checks, nearly 65 percent of gun owners believe the same. Perhaps that 65 percent can become the voice of reason that defeats the NRA’s alarmist propaganda. We hold out hope that over the next few months, their voices, as well as those of the Newtown parents and others affected by gun violence, will drown out the gun-rights extremists who have dominated the debate and universal background checks will become the norm.