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The business of guns

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The headquarters of the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Va.EPA

If it seems wrong to talk about a mass shooting as a business issue, you're right. It's wrong.

But thanks to the National Rifle Association and the $13.5 billion-in-revenue gun industry, money is inextricably tied to the seemingly endless string of killings plaguing our country.

In Orlando, the latest tragedy, 49 people died in the worst mass shooting in US history. It's hard to overstate how cruel a blow the attack was to victims, their families, and the nation. For anyone too young to remember that there was once an assault weapons ban and that mass shootings were not always a frequently recurring event, this insanity may even seem normal. And that's another tragedy.

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But for the NRA, the gun industry, and the politicians they bankroll, spasms of violence like Orlando are an obscene blessing. Why?

First, gun sales soar in the wake of mass shootings. After the killings in San Bernardino, Calif., for example, Smith & Wesson, one of America's largest gun companies, saw its quarterly sales climb 61.5 percent. Shares of the Springfield-based company rose after the Orlando shooting.

The pattern is clear: The inevitable calls that follow shootings to increase background checks or ban certain weapons are good for the gun business, because people rush to buy weapons before they are restricted. But gun control legislation never gets anywhere at the federal level.

Second, mass shootings trigger another round of lobbying and donations that reinforce the NRA's power and politicians' dependence on its money.

Lobbying is one of the most successful businesses in this country, one the gun industry is especially good at. The NRA has so much power that even when 90 percent of Americans said they wanted universal background checks after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, according to a CNN/ORC poll, there was no federal action.

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And thanks to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, we can't "follow the money" and figure out whom to blame. Both those Supreme Court cases make it very difficult for the public to figure out who is donating money to whom; after Citizens United, anonymous corporate campaign contributions quadrupled.

The problem is extremely wealthy people, gun makers, and the NRA, can now spend as much as they want to buy candidates.

Third, according to Pew Research, mass shootings make the public less likely to support gun control. For example, after Newtown, support for gun rights increased seven percentage points, while the share prioritizing gun control fell by five.

According to many Pew Research polls, while the vast majority of America continues to support specific gun restrictions (like background checks), more and more people say they are against "gun control." The gun industry is just that good at PR.

The NRA – and the five million people who get its magazines – are on a mission to prove that guns make us safer. If someone else had had a gun at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, they argue, he or she could just have shot Omar Mateen earlier. Right?

Dead wrong. The NRA and its supporters may be successful at propaganda, funding biased studies, and preventing the Centers for Disease Control from even researching about gun deaths, but they're shamefully bad at facts.

According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, firearms are used far more often to intimidate in escalating arguments than used in self-defense. And a study of 198 cases of entry into occupied homes in Atlanta found that it was twice as likely for the invader to obtain the victim's gun than for the victim to use it in self-defense (study by Arthur Kellermann, a professor and physician famous for his gun research).

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In other words, guns make you less safe and they're not that great for self-defense.

The Second Amendment argument is equally fabricated. Until the 1960s, the Supreme Court had only dealt with a few gun control cases and held that the Second Amendment was related to militia and collective rights, not individual rights. In 2008, thanks to a long NRA campaign, the Court held in Heller that the Second Amendment does grant an individual right.

Just to be clear: The gun industry does not actually care about your Second Amendment rights; they don't even care about your life. They only care about profit.

Since business is the only thing that seems to speak to the NRA and the gun industry, one solution to the gun culture problem might be boycotting businesses that refuse to support responsible gun ownership. A lot of retirement stocks are invested in the gun industry – and they went up after the Orlando shooting – so people who support gun control might want to prevent their savings from being invested in companies that profit when people die.

The only purpose of guns is killing. And the only purpose of the gun industry is to sell them.

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Next time you think about buying a gun, think about that.


Isvari Mohan can be reached at voice@isvari.com. Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM.