Gregory Bull/Associated Press
Let’s not kid ourselves. They’re stronger than we are.
This country won’t do anything about guns in the wake of Sunday night’s carnage in Las Vegas. It won’t make any difference that 58 people died, and hundreds more were injured, when a man opened fire with a jury-rigged machine gun from a hotel room high above a crowd.
It won’t make any difference that large majorities of Americans, including many Republicans, believe in at least some basic gun control, like strengthening background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
It doesn’t matter that there are many more of us than of them. The National Rifle Association, which represents just 19 percent of gun owners in this country — and 6 percent of Americans — always wins. Always.
By now, the NRA knows that a massacre, even one as horrific as this, isn’t a setback. It’s a marketing opportunity.
CEO Wayne LaPierre and all the other Second Amendment absolutists understand all they have to do is wait. They’ll lie low, then they’ll be back, stronger than ever. They know our outrage will drain away, and memories will fade, leaving those who loved the victims alone with their grief. They will not be stopped. Because we will not stop them.
A legislative effort to make gun silencers easier to get — paused this week — will be revived. The members of Congress wholly owned by the NRA and the gun manufacturers will broom through that and other bills which will make it easier to mow down their constituents. They will continue to block even modest measures to protect us — like federal research into gun violence.
Legislators, most of them Republican, will do it because the NRA floods their campaigns with donations and its members know how to make officials comply. A whopping 46 percent of NRA members have contacted a public official to express their opinion on gun policy.
This is not a pure democracy. Some votes count more than others. The gun-obsessed bend the system to their will. They work harder than we do. They care more than we do. They vote more than we do.
They can swing politicians, and they can swing elections, as they likely did in 2000, pouring millions into the effort to defeat Democrat Al Gore after he dared to cross them by breaking a tie on a gun control bill in the Senate (the bill was defeated in the House after the NRA and its members blitzed the chamber).
“From my cold, dead hands!” triumphant NRA president, and big-screen Moses, Charlton Heston proclaimed that year, holding his gun aloft at the annual NRA convention.
Not even then. Heston died in 2008, and since then, America’s grip on its guns has only grown tighter. Even a massacre of 6- and 7-year-olds couldn’t loosen it. Adam Lanza unloaded 154 rounds in less than six minutes at Sandy Hook Elementary School, producing carnage so horrific it gave even LaPierre pause — at least for a week. Then out he came, guns blazing, a few days before Christmas in 2012: More weapons would fix everything, he proclaimed.
People thought he was crazy. But not his people. Guess who turned out to be right? President Obama tried to get an almost comically weak measure expanding background checks on gun purchasers through Congress. It had near-unanimous support from voters in the wake of the tragedy. That didn’t matter to our leaders in Congress, who voted it down, even as the heartbroken parents of victims watched from the gallery.
How pathetic are these leaders, to be more worried about crossing Wayne LaPierre rather than of the grieving mother of a slaughtered first-grader? How shameless?
Sure, politicians and those to whom they kowtow pretend this is all about something more noble. They wrap themselves in the flag, claiming guns are uniquely a guarantor of freedom. As Larry Pratt — leader of the right-of-the-NRA Gun Owners of America — told PBS’s Frontline, “We can’t ever afford to lose one [battle], because then we’ve lost something tangible and essential to the definition of being an American.”
But this isn’t really about patriotism. The NRA works for the gun manufacturers. And gun manufacturers need to sell more guns. But how do you do that in a country where there are already 300 million weapons in circulation? You market ever more lethal models. You convince people that they absolutely need the kinds of weapons that should only be used in war. That women need pink ones and kids need cute ones and men grow manlier with every addition to their arsenals.
But that alone won’t do it. You also have to convince the sheep who buy this pap that guns are the key to our liberties, which are under attack. You sell them an apocalyptic vision of America, where their weapons are all that stand between them and the government’s “jack-booted thugs,” as LaPierre famously called them. It’s a vision that works better than anything the other side can offer — a vision that gave us this president, deep in the pocket of the NRA, which spent $30 million to help get him elected.
Acts of domestic terrorism, and the calls for gun control that inevitably follow, play right into that dystopian vision. And so gun sales surged under Obama, and spiked when it looked like Hillary Clinton would succeed him.
Sales have been relatively anemic under Trump, who wouldn’t dream of crossing gun owners. So this massacre comes at just the right time for the industry. Gun manufacturers’ stock prices rose this week, as speculators anticipated the (pointless) calls for tighter gun controls and the resultant rush on weaponry.
Some will say it’s unseemly to profit off carnage, but let’s not kid ourselves.
It’s as American as mass murder.
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