Two weeks ago, on February 14th, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida joined the list of schools who terrorized by gun violence. While appalling, the shooting is not surprising, already the 12th school shooting this year. While some have responded to the shooting with calls for more guns, many survivors of the shooting, such as Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, have demanded stricter gun control legislation. In a gun control rally following the shooting, Gonzalez addressed her representatives, who were elected to represent and protect her and her fellow citizens, questioning their response, or lack thereof, to the shooting and to their constituents requests for stricter gun control.
In the most recent CNN poll on public opinion toward gun control, published a couple weeks after the shooting, on February 25th, 70% of respondents reported support for stricter gun laws. More specifically, the poll reported an overwhelming support for laws that would prevent convicted felons, people with “mental health problems,” and people under 21 from buying a gun and would ban high-capacity/extended ammunition magazines and semi-automatic guns. Despite these findings and Stoneman Douglas survivors’ sit-ins, walk-outs, and town halls, Marco Rubio, Senator of Florida, has flat out rejected the possibility of banning semi-automatic guns because it does not reflect the people’s wishes–and likely because it does not reflect the NRA’s.
Marco Rubio is one of many representatives who receive “donations” from the NRA–according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), 307 congress members get money from the NRA–but Rubio is one of only eight representatives who receive $1 million or more from the NRA, making him especially in debt to the organization and its wishes–over the course of his career as a Senator, Rubio has accepted $1,012,980 in NRA contributions, making him the 8th largest NRA donor recipient in the Senate.
And the playing field is not equal: “gun rights groups” have given more to current congressional candidates in the 2018 election cycle than gun control groups have spent on current congressional candidates ever. Ever. Which begs the question: who is being represented when our representatives make gun laws? And the bigger question: is lobbying democratic?
According to Robert J. Samuelson, of the Washington Post, “lobbying is an expression of democracy.” That is, lobbying organizations organize “the will of the people” into a comprehensive agenda and put the time and energy into actualizing that agenda so that the people don’t have to–like a representative, but with specialized knowledge about specific interests. On the other hand, Douglas Goodman, writer for digital news company Mic, argues that “Lobbying in the Single Greatest Threat to American Democracy.” While acknowledging the democratic need lobbyists fulfill–that being the provision of information to representatives on issues that their constituents feel are important and advocating for legislative based on that interest–Goodman points out that big lobbying organizations or big corporations that lobby (e.g., the NRA) can have their own set of interests that conflict with the people’s interests. When representatives side with these organizations, in response to past candidate contributions or in hope of future contributions, which many do, over their constituents’ interests, they are neglecting their duty to represent and look out for the people.
And, unfortunately, most people just don’t have the buying power that big lobbying organizations, like the NRA, do. According to Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America and author of The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate, “the self-reinforcing quality of corporate lobbying has increasingly come to overwhelm every other potentially countervailing force.” Drutman is referring to the almost incomprehensible gap between the $2.6 billion a year that corporations spend on lobbying and the $58 million a year that labor unions and public-interest groups spend combined. It is not surprising, then, that 95% of the most influential lobbying organizations are big businesses, like the NRA.
So is lobbying democratic? This is, of course, a philosophical question but it is also a practical one. Lobbying is a question of fairness, but it is also a question of welfare. In her speech at the gun control rally, Gonzalez voiced her concern over the NRA’s buying power over her life when she said: “[President Donald Drumpf has accepted] thirty million dollars [from the NRA]. And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Drumpf? If you don’t do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you.”
Whether lobbying as a theory is democratic as a theory, lobbying as practiced in US is not democratic and I know this because its consequences are degrading. The fight between public interests and the NRA has been getting more and more hostile and very soon representatives will be forced to choose between the people and the NRA’s kind donations, and I can only hope they would not throw away the democratic health of their own country for a million dollars.
*Photo by Occupy Global, “Occupy the NRA,” Creative Commons Zero license.