Last Wednesday the U.S. Senate voted on a bill drafted jointly by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The bill proposed the extend universal background checks to online gun sales and firearms sold at gun shows. Poles have shown that 90% of the American people support this expansion of background checks. How then, did a minority of senators (46 vs. 54 in favor) block this proposed legislation? The answer lies in the power of the gun lobby, and the amount of organization and money the National Rifle Association uses to assert its will in Washington.
Firstly, the gun lobby – in particular the NRA, the nation’s largest gun lobby – led a fierce campaign to prevent senators from voting in favor of this bill, like they would have done with any bill that even mentions guns. On Wednesday alone, the NRA spent $500,000 in advertising campaigns aimed at criticizing Obama’s gun policies. The gun lobby also spent the past several weeks lobbying and campaigning with the suggestion that any form of gun legislation will lead to a national registry, which leads to weapons being taken by the government – the ultimate fear for most gun owners. This statement is a complete lie, as the proposed bill specifically outlaws any form of national registry. In fact, as President Obama aptly pointed out, much of the information about this bill being spread was wrong.
Even if the gun lobby “willfully lied” about the bill, as the President put it, the senators themselves should still be able to look over the bill and realize for themselves that this legislation does not lead to any form of national registry. They haven’t. Why?
The NRA, due to its highly organized structure, strong presence in Washington and financial means, exerts sufficient pressure to directly influence a senator’s opinion. With 4 million members and with millions in donations each year, the NRA can use its large funding to “donate” in order to persuade. In 2012, a total of 261 candidates from both the Senate and House of Representatives received donations by the NRA, totaling to approximately $650,000 in that year alone . Since 1990, 60% of candidates have received donations, totaling to a whopping $4.3 million. Looking at these figures, its no wonder senators are afraid to vote against the will of the NRA.
Ultimately, this means that each year a wealthy and organized minority is “donating” to senate campaigns in order to secure their will in legislation. This is anti-democratic, and should not be allowed, especially when it goes against gun legislation that 90% of the American people have shown support for. The forceful lobbying of the NRA should be met with response, but the majority in favor of commonsense gun laws has little organization or funding to do so.
Logic commands that Washington have accountable representatives, who allow for the majority of people to voice their preferences. After all, isn’t the essence of a government “by the people” that it responds to its people’s will?
– Michael Swistara
Featured photo: the|G|â„¢, Creative Commons, Flickr