As the Senate prepares to vote Thursday on what appears to be a very modest proposal to increase background checks of gun purchasers at gun shows and on the Internet — leaving a great big loophole for families and friends, or should I say “friends,” — I felt compelled to check the gun lobby’s temperature.
It’s running a little high.
“Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” was the NRA’s response to the compromise legislation. “We have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.”
Let’s leave aside the feverish final sentence for a moment.
But on that first point — background checks — how does the NRA know that background checks won’t reduce violent crime? And why, in that case does a big majority of gun owners support them?
Background checks not only make sense, they work.
In 1994, all federally licensed firearm dealers were required by the Brady Act to conduct background checks to screen out felons and others considered dangerous. Fifteen years later, by 2009, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence website, nearly 2 million gun purchase applications had been denied. The most common disqualifier: felony convictions. Next were domestic violence misdemeanor convictions or restraining orders. A small percentage were denied due to mental health issues.
Two million may be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the number of guns owned by American citizens, but it is not meaningless.
On that other NRA point, about how the president should deal with the “gang problem” that is “tormenting” his hometown, I looked, but was unable to find any NRA recommendations.
What I did find was the fear mongering for which the NRA has become famous.
On the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in answer to the question: “Do gun control supporters have an ulterior motive?” the NRA implies a strong yes.
“In 1976,” according to the NRA, “the chairman of the National Council to Control Handguns — later renamed Handgun Control Inc, and now known as the Brady Campaign, said: ‘The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition — except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal.’”
The quote is correct. It appeared in 1976 in the July 26 issue of the New Yorker in a story about Nelson Shields, a middle-aged chemical company executive who took a year off work to volunteer for the newly formed National Council to Control Handguns after his son was murdered in San Francisco in 1974. Shields made the statement to the reporter.
Nearly 40 years later, Brady is still upfront about its goals:
“We believe that law-abiding citizens should be able to buy and keep firearms,” says the Brady website. “There are certain classes of weapons that should be out of bounds for private ownership. They include Saturday night specials, which are used almost exclusively for crime, military-style assault weapons like Uzis and AK-47s, and .50-caliber sniper rifles, which serve no ordinary sporting purpose.”
That’s no ulterior motive.
On the other hand, you may well ask, does the NRA have an ulterior motive?
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre often speaks of small contributions from “5 million families” passionate about their 2nd Amendment rights that keep the group afloat.
An April 2011 report by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit research and education organization that attempts to influence public policy, found that the NRA receives many millions of dollars from gun makers and related businesses.
The report, “Blood Money, How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA,” found that 74% of the NRA’s corporate contributions come from those sources, an amount estimated at $14.7 million to $38.9 million since 2005. Those contributors include makers of handguns, rifles, shotguns, assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, among others.
(The NRA’s annual budget, said Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarmann, is about $220 million. A number of publications have cast doubt on the number of NRA members, some of whom, according to this story may be enjoying their memberships from the grave.)
The NRA refuses to accept what most Americans believe: the time is now for reasonable gun control measures like background checks.
But the NRA will not take action that harms the bottom line of its most generous benefactors.
That, I believe, is what a cynic might call an ulterior motive.