Like many Americans, I live in a responsible gun-owning household, and a majority of my friends and peers do, too. Whether it’s for hunting, personal safety or recreation, guns have always been part of American culture. The Second Amendment clearly states “the right of the People to keep and bear arms,” which is an important aspect of a free state.
But even more important than the Second Amendment is the universal, unalienable right to live and breathe — a right that 30,000 citizens are refused each year in the United States because they have senselessly lost their lives to guns. As a country, we CAN and we MUST find the balance between honoring the Second Amendment and making commonsense gun-control measures to prevent gun-related violence.
Despite the fact the majority of our country believes in reasonable gun reform, our leaders continue to cater to someone else. I believe our biggest obstacle in this fight is our current Congress and special-interests groups, specifically the National Rifle Association, that have made it seem impossible for politicians to work together toward a bipartisan solution by painting a polarizing black and white landscape of Good versus Evil, Republican versus Democrat, Wrong versus Right, and Freedom versus Totalitarianism.
This simply isn’t the case, and our country and our government have been duped by this lie for the past 20 years. It’s become an absurd McCarthy era-like fear that the government is trying to “take away our guns,” and everyone should be suspicious and paranoid, when in reality, it’s just another way to control you. Here’s why.
The NRA wasn’t always the dichotomous, power-thirsty organization it is known to be today. In its early days, it was a grassroots social club that prided itself on independence from corporate influence, celebrated responsible and safe gun ownership and recreation, and was a forerunner in gun legislation. Karl T. Frederick, an Olympic gold medalist in sports shooting, served as president of the NRA and vice president of the United State Revolver Association. He was a strong supporter of gun control, and during hearings on the National Firearms Act in 1934 testified: “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. … I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” In the 1920s and ‘30s, its leaders helped write and lobby for some of the first federal gun-control laws. They proposed things that would never be heard coming from an NRA leader’s mouth in today’s world — like a federal one-day waiting period before receiving a gun and permits to carry a concealed weapon — as both would be considered now “tyrannical”.
Fast forward to today’s NRA and follow the money. The NRA and its allies in the firearms industries have poured nearly $81 million into House, Senate and presidential races since the 2000 election cycle, according to federal disclosures and a Center for Responsive Politics analysis. But where do they get all that money? Today, less than half of the NRA’s revenues come from program fees and membership dues. Instead, the bulk of the group’s money comes in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income and advertising, much of it originating from gun-industry sources.
Since 2005, the gun industry and its corporate allies have given between $20 million and $52.6 million to it through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program. The NRA also made $20.9 million, about 10 percent of its revenue, from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990. Additionally, some companies donate portions of sales directly to the NRA or match revenues. With such a strong financial hold on our elections and the staunch support or opposition to candidates, they are making policy by bribing Congress and elected officials and in return, politicians are enslaved to them in order to ensure re-election.
One of the biggest mistakes of our time relating to gun-control legislation was the 1996 enactment of the Dickey Amendment, and its 2011 extension. Named after Arkansas House Rep. and Republican NRA member Jay Dickey, this law brought scientific research on gun violence to a halt. It decreed, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
It was later expanded to include the Department of Health and Human Services. They were stripped of their financial backing and no longer able to conduct the nonpartisan research it takes to truly understand how guns and gun control measures affect the safety of our country. But even Dickey had a change of heart and is now a strong proponent of gun-control research. I share his belief that we can find common ground that makes this country safer, while simultaneously honoring the spirit of the Second Amendment. In many interviews and op-eds, he has expressed regret: “If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment. … We could have used that all these years to develop the equivalent of that little small fence.”
What changed Dickey’s mind? In an NPR interview conducted with Mark Rosenberg, president and chief executive of the Task Force for Global Health and previously the director of the National Center For Injury Prevention and Control at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he explains, “I just started watching what was happening in the news. And then all of a sudden, in the middle of that — and I think Mark showed it to me — what the highway industry did. …They had a goal of eliminating head-on collisions in our interstate system. And they never — they didn’t come out and say, we’re going to eliminate the cars. And they spent the time and the money for science and developed these 4-foot barricades that now you can see on the highways between the lanes of the interstate. And the results have been remarkable as far as eliminating head-on collisions. And I thought, well, we could do the same thing. We want science and science investigation and examination to take the place of politics.”
Just like other industries, by studying it and relying on science and facts, we can test gun violence to see what works and what doesn’t; what helps and improves or what makes worse. He stated, “We take a policy. And we test it. So let’s say the policy is we want to make sure that we do background checks and that we have registration of a certain type of weapon, so we know who has them and how they’re using them. Offhand, just by sitting here, I can’t tell you whether that will reduce gun violence and protect the rights of legitimate gun owners. But if you let the government fund a study that covers a large enough number of people over a large enough geographic area over a long enough period, I can tell you — and the science can tell you — if this worked.”
Though Obama reversed the clause on gun research with an executive order after the Sandy Hook shooting and announced he would push for $10 million in the CDC budget for 2014 earmarked for gun research, Congress failed to act. Twice, Obama asked for $10 million in funding in the federal budget for gun-violence research. And twice, the House of Representatives quietly turned down the request. Without money allocated specifically to gun research, federal agencies have not been able to launch funding programs for gun research despite the fact the ban was lifted.
The road to a safer America will be long and tough, but our sense of urgency must be felt now, and it starts with action. With President Obama’s recent executive order announcement, I hope Congress feels a kick in the pants and prompted to put an end to their indifference. Sitting back while innocent people are dying daily by preventable violence will not stand. It’s not what the majority of Americans want.
Guns shouldn’t fall on party lines, and change shouldn’t be held at ransom by powerful lobbyists and corporations. We can both honor the Second Amendment while also making our country a safer place. It’s time for lawmakers to follow their conscience instead of worrying about re-elections. Real change starts with us, so vote, write to your elected officials, and make our voices heard. My hope is we can work together to find common ground and save some lives!
— Cate Battles