By Ron Young
In the wake of many mass murders in our country, including the latest in Florida that took the lives of 17 people and the apparent planned assault by a student here in Everett — prevented by a caring, courageous grandmother — finally, public opinion among both Democrats and Republicans, including NRA members and national police organizations, has shifted to where majorities support expansion of background checks and restrictions on purchase of assault weapons. The question is whether politicians will pay attention to people’s views and support sensible stricter laws or, as most politicians have done up until now, march in lock step to lobbying by the NRA.
The NRA wasn’t always a big-moneyed lobby and wasn’t always against restrictions on guns. Growing-up in New Jersey as a teenager in the 1950s, I joined the NRA and remember its major emphases were on teaching good marksmanship and gun safety. In then1930s, responding to the deadly use of machine guns by gangsters, the NRA supported restrictions adopted in the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act. Following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the NRA worked with the White House and Congress to support extending and tightening gun control legislation.
It was during the 1970s, and dramatically in 1980 with its endorsement of Ronald Reagan for president, that the NRA reversed direction. Now, the NRA lobbies against any gun control measures and gives politicians grades which, combined with providing or withholding crucial campaign funds can determine if a candidate is elected or not. The conflict between growing majority popular support for some more controls and the NRA’s rigid opposition to any gun restrictions is dramatic and should be disturbing to all Americans who want to prevent violence and who believe in democracy.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and its public communications director Dana Loesch rightly criticize Hollywood’s sick addiction to violence. While Hollywood provides culturally destructive inspiration for violence, by promoting massive gun sales and resisting even modest gun control measures, the NRA consistently contributes to more people possessing more and more weapons. Americans own more guns per capita than residents of any other country.
A few facts from reliable recent polls reveal how popular views have changed and how out-of-step the NRA is in relation to majority opinion among Americans. According to Gallup polls, just eight years ago the percent of Americans who believed laws controlling firearms should remain as they are was nearly equal to the percent who believed the laws should be made stricter. Today, almost twice as many Americans — 60 percent to 33 percent — believe gun control laws should be stricter.
Polls in 2016-17 by CBS, CNN, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and Washington University in Missouri show that between 84 precent and 94 precent of American voters (Democrats and Republicans) support requiring background checks on all gun purchases. A Pew Research Center poll reveals that 79 percent of Republicans or Republican-leaning gun owners who are members of the NRA would support measures “preventing the mentally-ill from purchasing guns,” and 72 percent support “barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.” I assume similar or even greater numbers of NRA members would support keeping guns out of the hands of persons with serious criminal records.
A Pew poll in spring 2017 showed that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans supported banning assault-style weapons. While 80 precent of Democrats supported such a ban, sadly so far, while a majority, only 54 precent of Republicans supported a ban.
Appreciating how studies show that some stricter gun control laws can help protect police as well as the public, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which includes nine national law enforcement organizations, supports expanding required background checks. And seven of the nine national organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, also support a “ban on new semi-automatic assault weapons.”
The NRA opposes all of these sensible restrictions on guns, and will work with big money to defeat candidates for office who support them.
In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, people should demand that every candidate for city, state or federal office declare support publicly for expanding background checks on all potential gun buyers and for banning purchase of assault weapons. Allowing the NRA to block these majority-supported sensible stricter gun control measures not only represents a threat to the lives of more innocent people, but also represents a threat to democracy.
Ron Young lives in Everett and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.