17 April 2013

The Senate’s stunning, although not altogether surprising, vote to reject expanded gun background checks showed that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre runs this country, maybe even more than the Koch brothers, which I didn’t think was possible. 

When close to 90% of Americans are for the passage of tighter background checks, it seems logical to believe that those we elect to public office would hear the call and vote accordingly, but that’s only if you believe that Congress members —on both sides of the aisle—listen to their constituents and not the special interest groups that are now allowed to donate unchecked amounts of money to literally buy their votes. 

And that’s what we saw today. For those opposed to today’s events, we can be angry about it, but we can’t give up. We can post "Shame" posters on Facebook and links that explain how it happened, but that won't change a damn thing.  The stakes are simply too high to stop there. There’s only one thing that will change the odds and that’s to outsmart the NRA at its own game, which, when I feel the despair I feel today, seems nearly impossible. The NRA is absolutely ruthless in going after what it wants and it now wants so much and has so much momentum that it is not willing to cede anything —even background checks that it previously supported and that the majority of its current membership endorses—because  Wayne LaPierre knows he has virtually every Republican and some Blue Dog Democrats by the balls. Look at how today’s vote went —on a bill that was already extremely watered down —and tell me one good reason why the NRA should change its operating tactics to reflect the more mainstream beliefs of its members. The NRA is getting away with things it can’t even believe.

Passage of today’s bill would have meant that people buying guns at gun shows and online would go through the same background checks that someone who buys from an authorized dealer goes through.  A survey of inmates conducted by the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that 80% of them  had secured their guns through private sales because the loophole that would have been closed today meant no background checks or record keeping. 80%. That loophole is still wide open.

To keep it in gun parlance, I’ve always loved this quote from Sean Connery’s character, Jim Malone, in “The Untouchables.” As Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness struggles with how to fight Al Capone and organized crime, Malone finally lays it down: “You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way.” 

I’m in no way, obviously, advocating any kind of violence. My point is that the NRA seems unbeatable, but it’s not. The public opinion numbers are on the side of those who want these background checks and other regulations to pass. But the money isn’t, and until it is, it doesn’t matter if 100% of people (minus Wayne LaPierre and Mitch McConnell, of course), are for background checks. It also doesn’t matter how many more people are killed by guns because the vast majority of us don’t need any more convincing. It is going to take one thing and one thing only: money.

So I’m breaking my own rules and, for the first time this year, giving more than $10 publicly to a cause I support. The Coalition to Stop  Gun Violence fights against gun violence through public advocacy and strategic engagement. It doesn’t always get it right, but it is willing to take on the NRA at its own game. 

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary deaths four months ago, 3,482 Americans have been killed by guns, according to CSGV.  In honor of them, I’m giving $350 to CSGV today. By giving to an organization that actively lobbies, I don't even get the benefit of a tax deduction on this one, but that seems a very minor price to pay. 

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