Can Gun Control Return the Power to the People? by Wyeth Taylor @ Skidmore College
Today it is undeniable one of the most divisive issues in American politics is centered around gun control. It is a deeply partisan issue, with the core value of the Second Amendment struggling against the prevalence of mass shootings against civilians using military-grade weapons. The horrifying number of mass shootings, with the latest occuring only a couple of weeks ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has thrown even more gasoline on the fiery debate between protecting citizens’ lives and the right to bear arms. Despite the partisan divide, a majority of Americans do support gun control, highlighting not only in this debate but many others the crucial issue of politicians blatantly ignoring the safety and desire of their constituents in favor of receiving donations from special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association.
The National Rifle Association has spent years pouring tens of millions into Republican campaigns, and as a result they wield far more power in Washington than any organization should. Even after the second mass shooting in his home state of Florida, the first being at a nightclub in Orlando two years ago, Senator Marco Rubio refused to say he would no longer accept campaign contributions from the NRA at a town hall forum following the Parkland school shooting. According to a CNN article, “Why the NRA is So Powerful, By the Numbers,” there are only six Republican members of Congress who are not currently receiving direct or indirect financial support from the NRA.
This influence shows no sign of wavering following yet another mass shooting. In terms of spending for the 2018 election cycle, the NRA and other gun rights organizations have already outspent their competition 40 to 1. The monetary incentives provided by these groups is clearly impossible for Republican candidates to say no to, as shown by the unwavering support Republicans continue to show to the NRA despite increasing public outcry. However, as the body count as a result of gun violence continues to rise, the argument against stricter gun control has become weaker and weaker, as shown by the fact the current governor of Florida, Republican Rick Scott, chose not to even attend the town hall forum held in Florida this past week and defend his position to his own constituents who have been deeply affected by his stance.
During a deeply divisive political climate in the US where it is rare to reach a consensus on anything, an overwhelming amount of Americans support stricter gun laws. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found sixty-six percent of Americans support stricter gun laws in general, with some of those numbers even higher in regard to specific measures. “Support for universal background checks, a mandatory waiting period for firearm purchases and an assault weapon ban came in at 97%, 83% and 67%, respectively. Sixty-seven percent of respondents also said it is currently too easy to buy a gun in the U.S., and three-quarters said Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.” These responses speak for themselves.
The contrast between these high levels of support and comparative inaction of policymakers exposes a blatant disregard for democracy, the basis of which is a government representative of the people. Based on this public polling, the viewpoints of the majority of the people are currently being overshadowed by a massively powerful organization’s agenda. It is undoubtedly a sign of democratic erosion when the safety of the people being represented is being ignored in favor for one’s groups interests. Ellen Lust discusses this idea, termed democratic backsliding, in her article Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding, stating “too often, competitive elections are undermined, citizens lose their rights to mobilize or voice their demands, and governments become less accountable.” The influence of the NRA has clearly contributed to all these effects becoming noticeable in the US. And despite a more recent focus on the state of our democracy following the election of Donald Trump, in actuality this is not a recent trend by any means.
There is typically a direct correlation in regard to the numbers of mass shootings and the gun legislation in a country. Sadly American society seems to have grown complacent about this in many ways, as mass shootings have become much too common of a media story. However this is not the case in many other countries with stricter gun laws. Countries that took quick and decisive action to restrict gun ownership following instances of gun violence, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, saw an immediate and lasting decrease in gun homicides.
The main source of opposition to stricter gun laws is the American emphasis of the right to bear arms. While the necessity of the right to bear arms and the self-defense argument associated with it is an entirely different debate, it is difficult to see how there is not a consensus on certain guns. When the Constitution was written in 1787, 230 years ago and shortly after the end of the bloody Revolutionary War, the founding fathers could not have anticipated the AR-15, the semi-automatic assault rifle used in the Parkland shooting as well as in the Sandy Hook shooting, Orlando shooting, and many other mass shootings over the past several years. This weapon is able to fire about 800 rounds of ammunition a minute, showcasing its main objective, to kill as many people as quickly as possible. It is impossible to consider a scenario when any civilian should have access to such a deadly weapon, and hopefully the only good thing to come out of another horrific tragedy is it finally rallies enough public outcry to make meaningful gun legislation happen.
Not only in the context of this specific issue, but in many others as well, a democracy needs to hear and respond to the voices of the people, not a group of wealthy elite with their own agenda, especially one causing direct harm to other citizens. During the CNN town hall one survivor of the Parkland school shooting, Cameron Kasky, asked Rubio whether or not he would accept future NRA donations, Rubio replied by stating how people buy into his agenda, but that doesn’t mean he buys into theirs. However, it is unlikely the NRA would be pouring the millions they are into Republican campaigns and expecting nothing from them in return. Rubio continued on to say “I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda.” Kasky simply replied “Your agenda is protecting us, right?”
Photo from “A History of Gun Control in the Pages of America,” Creative Commons Zero License