Prying the Government Out of their Cold, Dead Hands: United States Policy and the National Rifle Association
The creation of policy in the federal government of the United States is a much more complicated process than many would assume. The complexities that appear on the surface are certainly bad enough; the number of committees, sub-committees, and individuals that a piece of legislation or policy must go through before being enacted (or, more often, shot down or altered beyond recognition) is mind-boggling. When lobbyists and special interest groups are added to the mix, the complexities of the process grow at an exponential level, as the competing interests and incentives to various political figures make public policy less about the public, and more about the dollars that are situated behind the votes. Special interest groups, though minorities themselves, have a great deal of say in the majority whims.
One especially powerful special interest group that derives a great deal of benefit from its power in the federal government is the National Rifle Association. As virulent opponents of gun control, the National Rifle Association has been instrumental in keeping many types of firearms legal and on the streets in numbers that could have been greatly reduced by gun control legislation proposed many times over many decades (Kennedy 1967; Medlock 2006). In so doing, the organization has also ensured its own longevity and continued relevance, as its membership numbers (and the dues that these members pay for the National Rifle Association’s activities, lobbyists, and administrators) have remained fairly solid throughout the years of its existence (Kenny, McBurnett, & Bordua 2004). The harm that the NRA’s success has brought to the general public is immeasurable.
The right to bear arms is guaranteed in the second amendment to the United State’s Constitution, and this has been the basis for most of the National Rifle Association’s actions and claims. Despite the fact that tens of thousands of people are killed every year by guns, not to mention the thousands of violent crimes committed with the use of guns that do not result in a death, the firearms industry remains one of the most loosely regulated in the nation (Kennedy 1967; Medlock 2006). In large part, the actions of gun owners and the violence that many of them commit with their weapons cannot be directly lined to the activities of the National Rifle Association, but in other instances there is a direct causal link between the actions taken by the NRA in their lobbying and the rallying of their members and in the levels and locations of gun violence that occur throughout the nation.
One such instance of a direct link is provided by the loophole in Virginia’s state law, as well as in other states that have strong membership rates in the National Rifle Association, that allows for guns to be sold at gun shows by non-licensed dealers, without any background checks or waiting periods. This has been cited as a primary cause for the readily available guns in nearby New York City, and despite the fact that most Virginians are in favor of closing this loophole and enforcing stricter gun control, the National Rifle Association has been instrumental, through lobbying efforts and campaign contributions, to have officials elected that agree with their constituents in most instances but side with the NRA in keeping the sale of guns through gun shows legal (NY Times 2009). This instance also helps to illustrate the mechanisms at work in the government that allow the NRA’s continued benefit at public expense.
The National Rifle Association is not some all=powerful organization that is able to install leaders into office simply based on its own preferences and purse strings. Research has shown that the National Rifle Association can be extremely effective in hotly contested races for congressional and state-level seats, however, and thus in the overall shaping of gun control policies (Kenny et al. 2004; NY Times 2009). The NRA is not especially effective at having legislative measures introduced and passed, then, as it is in having legislation that might impose stricter gun controls blocked; its ability to place leaders in office is too limited for proactive efforts, but is definitely substantial enough to slow down or stall efforts made against the National Rifle Association’s interests (Kenny et al. 2004). It is in this manner that the National Rifle Association manages to continue to benefit both finically and through access to power at the expense of the public’s safety and their very lives, and even in a very real way at the expense of the all-important national security.
No one can dispute that the right to own firearms was in some measure protected by the Founding Fathers and their inclusion of the second amendment in the United States Constitution. This was written at a time when guns took over a minute to reload between shots, however, and was expressly for the purpose of maintaining a militia of the people. The sale of weapons through gun shows, the continued legality of handguns and rapid-fire assault rifles, and the many other issues that the National Rifle Association lobbies for no more promote the precepts of the second amendment than the guns they promote are used for home protection.
Kennedy, E. “Should Congress Enact Administration Proposals For Increased Federal Controls Over Firearms? PRO.” Congressional digest 46(8/9) (1967), pp. 218.
Kenny, C.; McBurnett, M. & Bordua, D. “The Impact of Political Interests in the 1994 and 1996 Congressional Elections: The Role of the National Rifle Association.” British Journal of Political Science 34(2) (2004), pp. 331.
Medlock, S. “NRA = NO RATIONAL ARGUMENT? HOW THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION EXPLOITS PUBLIC IRRATIONALITY. Texas forum on civil liberties & civil rights 11(1), 2005-6, pp. 39.
NY Times. “Editorial: Virginia and Gun Control.” 22 October 2009, pp. A34.
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