Monday, October 12, 2015

It's not NRA lobbying blocking new anti-gun laws - it's grassroots voters and gun owners

Recently Obama again attacked the NRA for no new laws being passed in the wake of shootings where the shooters had no previous red flags and had passed background checks and had used handguns. It's the NRA's fault that these tragedies couldn't be exploited to expand background checks to isolated private sales and an "assault weapons ban" on semiautomatic sporting rifles.

What this ignores is that the NRA doesn't have that much money. What it has is the support of a very large section of the voters. Many gun owners aren't members of the NRA. I'm not. Many more members got their membership because it's packaged free with most new gun sales. But we're voters who care about much the same things that the NRA cares about.

We're also not lying about poll numbers. There was a poll that claimed 90% of Americans "support background checks", so how was it possible that the Manchin-Toomey bill could have failed? Well, 90% of Americans do support some background checks. Probably most background checks. I have no problem with a background check for buying a gun from a dealer or from an FFL. But it's impossible to have what are called "universal background checks", the expansion of background checks to private intrastate transfers, without a gun registry. As I've pointed out before. And that's why Manchin-Toomey failed. Gun owners knew about this problem with the bill, and called their Senators and their Representatives. That's also why support for "background checks" fell so rapidly.

But Obama and other politicians keep pushing the "90%" line, again and again and again. Obama said after Manchin-Toomey failed that "The American people are trying to figure out -- how can something that has 90 percent support not happen?" It's an easy question to answer. He's wrong. The poll is wrong. There wasn't 90% support for the bill.

This is backed up by what one of the bill's supporters said after the bill failed, "When 90 percent of the people want something, and the senator votes against them, the next election, we're going to take care of those senators, because they're not representing the people."

And yet, those Senators weren't replaced. The vote was in 2013. In the 2014 elections, the Republicans held all of their Senate seats and gained 9 Democrat seats to regain control of the Senate for the first time since the Bush Administration. Clearly 90% of the country had spoken. Those Senators weren't "taken care of", because they were representing the voters.

Politicians, pundits, talk show hosts, comedians, and rank and file democrats attack "The NRA", claiming that its lobbying and money prevents Congress from "making progress" on banning guns. But as a lobby, the NRA is a fricking joke in terms of DC money.

Getting past the obvious dripping bias of the OpenSecrets description, the numbers speak for themselves.

Top Contributors, 2013-2014
Contributor Amount
National Rifle Assn  $952,252
Safari Club International  $694,640
Gun Owners of America  $270,157
National Assn for Gun Rights  $175,650
National Shooting Sports Foundation  $169,250
Ohio Gun Collectors Assn  $35,500
Dallas Safari Club  $9,250

About $2.3 million. Compare that to the Environment sector, where the top contributor alone put in $4.3 million in the same time frame. Look at the Communications sector, Comcast lobbyists alone have put in $3.93 million. In fact, at $2.259 million, lobbying from *Microsoft alone* comes close to equaling *the entirety of lobbying done by the NRA*. In the energy sector, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association put in as much as the entire firearms lobbying sector.

Gun industry's *monetary* influence on politics is negligible. But the truth, and the thing that drives anti-gunners into a furious and impotent rage, is the fact that it's individual voters by the millions who drive gun policy. It's phone calls and emails and letters to politicians, it's election time volunteering and voting. And gun owners do it better than gun opponents. And they hate us for it. Read this angry anti-gun voter piece from Mother Jones, where they complain that they can't even win after using Bloomberg money to buy elections.

Money alone does not equal political power. Supporters of the background check bill and new gun control laws have lots of money. Bloomberg alone has spent tens of millions of dollars through Mayors Against Illegal Guns and his self-funded super-PAC, Independence USA, to counter the influence of the gun lobby. He ousted NRA-backed congressional candidates in the 2012 elections and again this year in Illinois, where he spent more than $2 million to defeat Debbie Halvorson, a Democrat who'd previously received an A rating from the NRA, in the special primary to replace disgraced ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Bloomberg declared that his money was a warning sign for pro-gun lawmakers: Shill for the NRA and I'll drop big money to bounce you out of office. That threat wasn't enough to persuade a handful of Democratic senators from red states and Republican senators who were once thought of as possible votes for gun safety measures.
Shilling against gun ownership is fine. SuperPACs are fine. Using big money to throw elections is fine, so long as you further the political goals of the anti-gun movement*.

The double standard for anyone concerned about money in politics is stunning and repulsive.

They also found that their own lobbying group couldn't get it done.

Obama's political machine could not overcome the NRA's might. A database of tens of millions of voters and the best political technology on the planet do not equal political power. The background check fight was the first real test for Organizing for Action, the advocacy group spawned from of the president's massively successful reelection campaign. Former Obama aides created OFA to mobilize Obama supporters during legislative fights like this one, hoping to use all the names, data, and other finely honed technologies during the 2012 campaign to create the outside pressure needed to push contentious pieces of legislation across the finish line.  
OFA executive director Jon Carson wrote that more than 22,000 people called the Senate on Wednesday demanding passage of Manchin-Toomey. But there were no reports of crippled phone lines or a massive surge of public interest similar to what was seen during the legislative debates over health care reform or financial reform. OFA devoted time and money organizing its members, but it wasn't enough.
Note the author's crowing over the database of "tens of millions of voters" as a positive, and how that database only translated to 22,000 calls in support of more gun control laws. This is key because of later in the article when they go after the NRA:

Here is what political power looks like: It's the combination of money, intensity, and influence when it matters most. The NRA boasts all of the above. LaPierre and his NRA colleagues around the country know how to whip their members—4.5 million of them by the NRA's count—into a frenzy. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 1 in 5 gun owners had called, written, or emailed a public official; only 1 in 10 people without a gun in the household had done the same. In the same poll, 1 in 5 gun owners said they'd given money to a group involved in the gun control debate; just 4 percent of people without a gun in the home previously gave money.

It's bad that the NRA boasts 4.5 million members because the author disagrees with them. It's good that OFA has a database of tens of millions of members because the author agrees with them. But there are an estimated 80-100 million gun owners in the United States. That means "1 in 5 gun owners" translates to roughly 16 to 20 million voters. That's 4 times the number of members of the NRA.

To the anti-gun movement* it's good that a billionaire throws elections that further their goals, and it's bad that millions of voters donate to politicians in opposition to that one billionaire. The thing that so frustrates the luminaries of the anti-gun movement* is the simple and unavoidable fact that their new laws fail because of democracy. There are no new laws because the democratic process is working, because millions of voters speaking out to their elected officials and donating to their political causes does indeed have more swing than few lobbying groups and wealthy individuals.

Obama wants to paint these millions of voters as being uniformly irrational conspiracy theorists. Which, by the way, is a fucking fantastic way to win people over.

“There is a very passionate group of gun owners who see a conspiracy around any new legislation and have an absolute belief that the Second Amendment means nothing would in any way constrain them from having whatever weapon on the market and modest additional steps are the camel’s nose under the tent to take away their guns,” 
The Second Amendment has already been extensively restricted. Gun ownership now is to the furthest limit of what the Supreme Court has ruled constitutional. And gun owners aren't stupid, we can look at Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, and California, and see that these news laws are always the camel's nose. In the same interview Obama praises the anti-gun laws of Australia, which are incredibly restrictive and which have not caused their murder rate to drop significantly.

There is no pressing need for these laws, and the proposed new laws wouldn't have done anything about the recent mass shootings where background checks have been passed, and handguns used instead of "assault rifles". Which means that obviously they wouldn't stop mass shootings, and so the camel's nose would keep going under that tent and result in more laws being passed, and more, and more. As has happened in those previously mentioned fiercely anti-gun states. Anti-gun activists know this, just as surely as gun owners know this. Gun owners aren't** conspiracy wackos, we just aren't idiots either. Ask anyone pushing new gun laws, whether they're a random liberal on the internet, or a politician, or a comedian, anyone who says "nobody is coming for your guns!", if there is a gun law they would oppose. Ask them if there is a single point past which they would say "That's enough new gun laws, I oppose any further laws."

I have. And the answer is always the same. They want gun ownership to end.

Gun owners aren't idiots. We also aren't all conservatives, we aren't all straight, we aren't all white, we aren't all men. We're not easily put into the boxes that they try to put us into. And this, too, infuriates the anti-gun movement. The backlash against Colion Noir, an African-American gun owner, when he became a paid commentator for the NRA was virulent and patronizing. He can't like gun ownership for its own sake, he must be a "shill". Everyone getting paid to post anti-gun articles, they aren't shills, they're just honestly expressing their opinions.

This is why there's no movement on new anti-gun laws. We don't like having our opinions invalidated, we don't like being insulted, we don't like having lies endlessly passed off as truth, and we don't like when a big money SuperPAC with a handful of wealthy donors tries to force their preferred laws to pass. And it's only in the field of gun ownership that the left accepts these things from authoritarian politicians.

This needs to stop, because as the Republican Party self destructs, this is the only thing that could cause the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, not just in 2016 but in 2018 and possibly even 2020. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, even Bernie Sanders are attacking firearms ownership. Democrats have, or had, a significant advantage in the electoral college. Few things could shake that advantage, but this is one of them. It's not because gun owners are "single issue" voters, but because many of us don't support being lied to and lied about. If you have Hillary Clinton running on an anti-gun platform (she should talk to her husband about how the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban cost the Democrats control of the House) against a Republican, she loses Ohio, Florida, Virginia, probably Pennsylvania, and almost certainly the Presidency.

Anti-gun publication Mother Jones describes the failures and fallout of when the Democrats forced the 1994 AWB through Congress:
As Obama assumes this tough mission, he can look back to the 1994 episode for guidance on how to win the politics and how to avoid screwing up the policy. Clinton savvily enlisted the law enforcement community and made good use of his Cabinet. Obama could emulate both moves. (He has instructed members of his Cabinet to help craft recommendations for Biden's task force.) Yet to make sure his efforts yield real-world results, the president will have to be mindful of policy particulars and not repeat the errors of 1994. "If you're going to be effective, you have to have a broad-based ban on weapons and on ammo," the former Justice Department official says.
One conclusion that can be drawn from the 1994 battle was that the weak ban that emerged might not have been worth the cost. And there was a stiff cost. When Congress passed the assault weapons ban, the NRA vowed vengeance. Months later, the Republicans, backed by the still-outraged NRA, romped the Democrats in the midterm election, gaining 54 seats and control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Clinton, for one, believed that voting for the the assault weapons ban had cost about 20 House Democrats their seats—meaning that the measure had caused a political backlash that led to a GOP the majority in the House. If Obama and others confront the NRA, they had better expect—and prepare for—a battle that will reach a crescendo on November 4, 2014.
Obama, unconcerned with leaving a winning legacy, has said that the Democrats should go ahead and become single issue voters and lose a few elections in order to fight gun ownership.
“You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue. And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them. And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side."
Imagine the backlash if you or I said the same thing about any other issue, like the Obama Administration's wiretapping, or its drone airstrikes against civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. He's willing to let the Republicans win, in spite of things like gay rights and reproductive rights, if gun ownership is fought.

The question is, will left wing gun owners and voters tolerate this? Will the voters let the Democratic Party leaders take the party down with them in their pursuit for more authoritarian anti-gun laws?

*Can't even say the "anti-gun left", because I am certainly much further left than former Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg.
** well not all of us, not even a majority of us, but that minority is really really loud and it's politically expedient to lump the rest of us in with them


  1. The NRA actually has a large amount of money. It reported $350 million in 2013. The donations you listed are for a specific pay which is barred from corporate donations.There is also a limit to what a single person can donate a year However, the funds for lobbyist ARE donated by corporations, which have no maximum.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Millie Shay, you are mistaken.

    I don't know if you are arguing in bad faith, or if the poorly written CNN article to which you linked has confused you. The article so badly blurs the distinctions between funding sources and what the funds are spent on that one wonders if the authors did that on purpose, or by mistake? Inquiring minds...

    Of the "...$350 million...", the article clearly states, "The majority of this money funds NRA initiatives like member newsletters, sporting events... But to influence laws and keep its chosen leaders in power, it has a separate pool of money to use."

    The same article also says that, "...much of this money comes from everyday Americans."

    None of this contradicts, or even undermines, the premise of Geeky Leftist's original post: It's not NRA lobbying blocking new anti-gun laws - it's grassroots voters and gun owners.

    If money were all that was needed, Soros and Bloomberg would have bought all the gun control they wanted along time ago. If there were a real groundswell of public support for greater restrictions on guns, OFA wouldn't have any trouble getting more than 22,000 people to call or write their elected officials.

    Geeky Leftist is also right about the insults and condescension ladled on gun owners in heaps. That crap doesn't change anyone's mind. It only hardens their resolve.

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