In the wake of the ghastly massacre in Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier this month, and more recently the fatal shooting of two firemen in Webster, New York, America’s gun problem is finally emerging from the shadows of the inner cities to the “Main Streets” and purportedly safer residential areas of America. Prudent policy change is eminent and politicians should be held accountable for making the necessary adjustments in current gun policy.
I'm not sure if this makes me a sadist but, one of my favorite past-times is watching homicide-investigative documentaries on television. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from these shows, it is that a number of victims would have survived their attackers had they been armed. It was on this basis that I formed my position as a pro-gun sympathetic. This opinion however, began to sway after former teammates of mine were robbed of their belongings at gunpoint. After that incident, I realized some trade-offs have to be made in order to keep guns out of the hands of deranged people while preserving the right to self-defense.
As a former enthusiast for gun rights, I recognize the sanctity of the Second Amendment , and what it represents for many Americans. However, the murder of helpless children and other massacres at the hands of firearms signals that the status quo is inconsistent, and has failed remarkably in striking a balance between preventing these unfortunate tragedies while preserving the right to bear arms.
Last week, the National Rifle Association — the largest gun lobby in the United States— reaffirmed its position in the fiery gun debate, stating that acts of gun violence in schools can be mitigated through the use of armed guards. The NRA grounded its stance on the rationale that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Unfortunately, this reasoning is shared by many politicians and Americans hence, why the gun debate is one that transcends the red-blue and conservative-liberal divides.
Over the years, the NRA has emerged as one of the largest and most influential lobbies in the Washington. After a series of victories in the courts and Congress, the group has (until recently), successfully changed the tone of the gun debate in the United States towards fewer restrictions. Part of its success has depended largely on its ability to wield electoral influence by endorsing candidates through its Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF).
For example, in the 2010 midterm elections, the NRA endorsed candidates in approximately two-thirds of congressional races and out of those endorsed, 80% won their respective seats. In addition, the NRA also operates a rating system where it ranks politicians based on their voting record on gun issues. The rating system ranges from “A” for candidates possessing an excellent voting record on gun rights to “F” meaning true enemy of gun rights. Through its rating system, the NRA has solidified its influence in the halls of Congress by holding politicians accountable by their voting records in gun policy.
The NRA is no different from other interest groups vying for political leverage, but given the critical state of gun-related violence in the United States, the NRA’s proposition following the carnage in Connecticut is downright daft, and its allies in politics should bear some responsibility. Below is a list of five politicians who should be held accountable for supporting the NRA and its erroneous attitude towards America’s gun problem.
1. Senator John McCain (R - Ariz.)
Although McCain’s voting record on gun control has bounced back and forth between restriction and gun rights, the former presidential candidate and renowned maverick among his peers has received over $500,000 in campaign donations from the NRA and other gun organizations between 1989 and 2012. Part of his voting history includes voting to loosen license and background checks at gun shows, and to allow weapons in checked baggage on Amtrak trains to name a few.
2. Representative Ron Paul (R - Texas)
On Christmas Day, Paul released a response statement to the NRA’s solution to gun violence condemning more legislation as the way to address America’s gun problem. Hiding behind the rhetoric of freedom and less government intervention in the lives of individuals, Paul failed to mention the financial backing he has received from gun lobbyists like the NRA. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Paul has received almost a $100,000 worth of donations from gun rights organization between 1989 and present.
3. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R - Penn.)
Santorum and his wife, Karen once boasted about being life members of the NRA. The couple’s gift to their ill 3 year-old daughter back in April 2012 was an NRA membership. Whether this was done as a political move, one cannot ignore the $96,702 total donations the former senator received from pro-gun groups over the course of his short political career.
4. Representative Michele Bachmann (R - Minn.)
During her short presidential campaign run in 2011, the Tea Party poster child quickly became the face of conservative women in politics. She received the NRA's “A” rating, as well as a financial endorsement from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund. Bachmann also lent political support to the NRA in the landmark cases, District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2011), where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental individual right to keep and bear arms for all law-abiding Americans. As a life member of the NRA, her voting record highlights her dedication to gun rights.
5. John Boehner (R - Ohio)
As current House Speaker, Boehner is arguably the face of the GOP leadership. After Mitt Romney’s devastating loss in November, Boehner is one of many Republican leaders bent on rebuilding the image of the party. However, his NRA “A” rating and the more thatn $100,000 he has received in campaign donations in the last 23 years reinforces his commitment to the NRA’s philosophy on gun rights.
To have a meaningful debate on guns, politicians and individuals alike would have to assess personal interests and the greater good and make sensible trade-offs. While the Founding Fathers reserved the right to bear arms, the context in which they were operating in is night and day compared to the society of today. Those in office are integral in charting the course of the gun debate, and until the interests of individuals and communities are given precedence over corporate and lobbyist-backed interests like the NRA, gun violence may never be properly addressed.