In a recent poll, 1 in 5 Americans has experienced gun violence in the past 5 years. The same poll revealed that 75% of Americans are in favor of raising the legal age of gun ownership to 21 years old, and 85% were in favor of a federal law requiring background checks for all potential gun buyers, even gun show buyers. Despite the majority of Americans supporting gun reform, every gun-related tragedy since Sandy Hook Elementary School has seen a sharp rise in gun sales. So, what can explain the dissonance in American politics and ideology surrounding guns and the debate on gun reform? The answer seems to point toward the NRA.
The National Rifle Association began as an organization that taught Americans how to safely store and handle their firearms. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy turned the NRA into the political tidal wave it is now. Today, the NRA is one of the most powerful special interest lobbying groups in America. The recorded contributions to lawmakers from the NRA is 3 million dollars per year, but the association is known to fund politicians in ways that are difficult to publicly track such as PAC and independent contributions, so it is likely even higher. The organization spent $20 million in the 2000 campaign as a revolt against Al Gore for proposing gun reforms in the wake of the Columbine shooting. The NRA also spent $30 million on the Trump campaign in 2016 which later tied Trump’s hands when he attempted to enact gun reform after the Parkland school shooting. President Trump met with victims of the Parkland shooting and assured them that he would enact gun reform to prevent another school shooting. However, the NRA then met with Trump, and the bill Trump proposed was stopped immediately after.
Furthermore, the National Rifle Association intimidates politicians because it has a system in which they rate politicians based on how they vote regarding gun legislation. The NRA has created smear campaigns about politicians that are outspoken against the NRA and its agenda. Many politicians are afraid of election outcomes if they are subjected to NRA-backed smear campaigns due to the mass mobilization available to the NRA through their members and their members’ votes. The National Rifle Association has been able to change American politics through monetary means as well as using its membership base to vote politicians out of office.
The National Rifle Association has the power to alter Americans’ political ideology and sentiment in the wake of mass tragedies. They have been known to blame mass shootings on the breakdown of the American family, bullying on social media, violent video games, and untreated mental illness. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, the NRA spins a narrative that politicians will use this chance to take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms which then scares its members to donate money in hopes of maintaining their Second Amendment rights.
The National Rifle Association has been able to effectively lobby against moderate gun reform that most Americans favor. The organization has monetarily funded politicians that support the organization. The politicians funded by the NRA have more campaign money to spend on advertising which can be a crucial part of winning an election. Elections have been impacted due to the NRA’s monetary force to further political campaigns. Yet, the organization’s agenda does not represent the majority of what the people of America want to see from their politicians. Despite most Americans agreeing upon moderate gun reform, this does not translate into policy or the actions of political representatives. Americans are actively experiencing a crisis of representation within their democracy which is further exacerbated by the actions of the NRA. Americans do not feel heard by their representatives which becomes worse when interest groups, like the NRA, continue to fund politicians in exchange for a lack of gun reform. These groups are diluting the voices of the American people by using their money to change politics in a way that is economically beneficial for them. American democracy is slowly eroding partially due to groups like the National Rifle Association that can bend politics to their preference with no regard for the voices of the American people. The lives of young Americans are at stake in the debate on gun reform, but sadly, they do not have a seat at the table. The National Rifle Association is able to distort American representation which has and will cost American school children their lives.
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