We’re Just Whistling Past the Graveyard if We Don’t Focus on Defeating Republicans at Every Level
By Michael E. Berumen
In the wake of the most recent school shooting tragedy in Florida, there is the customary hue and cry of media cognoscenti, gun control activists, and many politicians professing outrage. Social media are abuzz with outrage and commentary. And now, even high school students, the most recent and all-too-often the victims of this mayhem have commendably taken to the streets. The leading terrorist organization in the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA), is silent as it always is immediately following such events, keeping its proverbial powder dry and dealing with its legislative lackeys in private, while the public outcry dies down and people move on to something new and shiny. And politicians, who depend on the NRA’s largess, are offering their usual “thoughts and prayers,” simultaneously admonishing those who speak of reform for “politicizing” the issue, as though that very admonishment and anything else a politician says is not “politicizing” one thing or another. The bolder ones say we ought to look into this, but then they do nothing. All of this “Déjà vu all over again” – and not long after the Orlando nightclub and Las Vegas concert incidents, which both provoked similar clamors and plaintive pleas for reform.
My prediction is that nothing substantive will happen at the federal level, that past will be prologue, and that if any legislation occurs in the Congress, it will be relatively meaningless window-dressing, perhaps at most some tweaking of background checks (begging the question: once we have the information, what is it we’re going to do with it?) and raising the minimum age for assault weapons, as though 21 is magically a clear-cut demarcation between sanity and lunacy, or between our pacific and violent natures. And then, if such new laws are passed, politicians will crow about their accomplishment and what bipartisanship can do (there won’t be much of that, I can assure you). But I will believe it, even innocuous reform, when I see it. I hope I’m wrong. The fact is, though, there are three unpleasant realities we must face as liberals and as a nation. Permit me to encapsulate them.
First, there is the reality that the NRA is nothing less than a sponsor of terrorism and most, even liberals, fail to acknowledge it. Some of us profess as much, but a great many are in denial and simply unwilling to say it, for their neighbors, friends, father, boss … even they might presently or might have previously belonged to it. Much as my father did for many years. Who, after all, wants to say they pay dues to a terrorist organization, and isn’t it really just a sporting outdoorsmen’s and gun safety organization? And, for Heaven’s sake, we don’t see Wayne LaPierre himself out there waiving an AR-15 around and threatening anyone like some unhinged Mullah. The last matter first. The fact that NRA management is not out there shooting people does not militate against the fact that they wantonly and knowingly promote crowding the country with weapons specifically designed to kill people, and that they effectively use largess to prevent any stoppage or reduction of sales resulting from protections that might stop the wrong people from getting them. As for being a sporting organization, that is simple nonsense, for it stopped being sports enthusiasts’ organization decades ago. It is a lobbying organization for the firearms industry, pure and simple, an industry whose callous utilitarian outlook mandates that profits supersede safety and lives, and declaims against any impingement on access to guns as a slippery slope to ending gun ownership, when in fact it relates more to the prospect of reducing profits, an unacceptable outcome. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with lobbying on behalf of an industry, mind you. But there is when the preponderance of evidence shows the products are certain to be used for criminal and lethal outcomes, and at a cost that is far greater than any possible societal benefit (thereby nullifying the silly argument one hears about outlawing knives and cars).
Let’s get something straight by using an analogy: consider the arms dealer selling weapons to rogue states or terrorists. If such an entity sells arms designed to kill to people to bad actors that will use them illegally to destroy lives and property that results in terror, then that dealer in effect is an accessory to terrorism. And if another entity knowingly represents such a dealer as an agent for easing the latter’s path in society, both in terms of the institutions of law and general public acceptability, then the former, too, is an accessory to terrorism. The NRA represents those who manufacture such weapons, manufacturers who know or ought to know the consequences of their use, and it does everything possible to limit any restrictions in the face of mayhem that almost certainly will result from their availability. It then shamelessly beguiles ordinary citizens through propaganda into believing it protects their interests as sporting people. It is not that Americans are more mentally imbalanced than any other nation in the developed world, despite its very high incidence of homicides; it’s that America has more guns than any other developed nation in the world. And one of the principal reasons it does is because of the NRA. The NRA by any standard of logical analysis is essentially a sponsor of death and terrorism. Pure and simple.
The second issue is this. There is a myth that the Second Amendment offers individuals unbridled access to all weapons. It does not, and neither the Founders nor the Framers imagined such a thing. It is only recently that people came to believe that it did, and that is due largely to the success the NRA has had in its propaganda manipulating a large number of gun enthusiasts, building on anti-government sentiment and stoking paranoia about jack-booted, government confiscators swooping down in helicopters, and then essentially holding legislators hostage with both PAC money and its influence over voters, rousing the later into action at the slightest hint of challenge to its interests. No less a conservative than the late Justice Scalia put the lie to the notion that the Second Amendment is so capacious (Columbia v. Heller), and while he did believe the Amendment offers individuals the right to own arms (I disagree with this, but set that aside for our purpose), he also believed that the state has the right to regulate arms, much as one does with getting a license to drive and regulating the kind of equipment that one can use travel the public roads. Would anyone seriously maintain the Second Amendment entitles individuals to possess a nuke, a tank, or a cruise missile? And when the Framers were considering the so-called “prefatory clause” regarding a militia in the Second Amendment, surely they did not mean that such a force that would consist of just anyone, without regard to their capacities or their being in good standing with the law, or that it would entail citizen soldiers with no training. A widespread and consistently reinforced public relations campaign will be necessary to change hearts and minds on this issue, and to disabuse people of the idea that the Second Amendment gives carte blanche to weapons ownership.
Third, and from a practical perspective, the most important issue is this: a Republican Party that has spent years out-foxing Democrats at the local level on redistricting, whilst the latter paid attention to national polls and elections, has secured for itself a disproportionate amount of power in Congress when compared to the number of registered Republicans, nationally. Moreover, its power is inconsistent with the nation’s outlook in the sense that the majority of Americans disagree with very some key elements of the Republican platform on issues ranging from abortion to gun control. Many of the elected Republicans are beholden to the NRA both in terms of the money it gives to their campaigns and the voter influence it wields in their gerrymandered districts. Absent campaign finance reform and fair districting, that relationship is unlikely to change, even with national public pressure, for it is the local district that matters, not what Californians and New Yorkers think about gun control among other issues. Meaningful campaign finance reform will not occur under a Republican Congress. Period. And fair districting will not occur without the courts intervening in state legislatures’ mischief. Not only are these Republicans beholden to the NRA, they have a corporate constituency’s interests to mind, too, one that may be headed by those of a more “country club” Republican mindset of yore in philosophical orientation, but that is nonetheless forced to be a strange bedfellow with the wooly-minded Evangelicals, gun fetishists, and assorted Trumpsters in order to fulfill its more narrow financial objectives. Most business executives in corporate America are doubtless not interested in supporting the NRA or the GOP’s wackier social agenda; but many do like their lower taxes and fewer regulations.
Which leads me to my final and most important points: if there is to be material change in the NRA’s influence and truly meaningful gun control legislation, the Republicans cannot be allowed to continue their control of Congress. Indeed, they must be completely marginalized so that it is not simply a minority party in Congress by a small degree, but by a decisive amount and one sufficient for cloture in the Senate and enough Democrats and unaligned members in both chambers to overrule a veto from a Republican President. So, if we liberals want to emasculate the NRA and get meaningful gun reform, then we are going to have to get very serious about winning at the local and state level. That means to some degree we need to recalibrate the way we do politics. First and foremost, we must become better marketers and more adapt at playing hardball … and we are not nearly as good as Republicans have been in recent years … and we must relearn Speaker Tip O’Neil’s wise judgement, which is that all politics is local. We must find ways to appeal to local constituencies with local issues, not just the sweeping, single national issues that drive many liberals. Moreover, we must become less divisive in our own ranks, not falling in love but falling in line, like the Republicans, and unlike some of our recent campaigns where internal strife and overly-pious dogma have contributed to our loses. And like the true believers that dominate the Republican base and the Second Amendment fetishists, we must vote. And until all of that happens and we bounce the Republicans out of Congress for a long period of time, don’t for a moment think things are going to change in any measurable way. They just won’t. I am not discouraging protests, marches, lobbying efforts, writing and social media campaigns, and attempts to legislate sensible gun control in the meantime; as with the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60s, it is necessary to do these things to build popular support. But those efforts should be in addition to the most important measure of all, namely, getting out the vote for good candidates and taking action at the ballot box. And the youthful protesters we see today that are in high school and who are now or will soon be old enough to vote can play a vital role in this by voting and helping to get out the vote in the upcoming midterm election and again in 2020. A decisive Democratic majority in both bodies of Congress is where the rubber ultimately will meet the road. If we want gun control, marginalize the Republicans and, as a result, put an end the insidious power and mayhem of the NRA.