Ever since the Senate voted down gun-control legislation in April, some advocates have remained convinced there was still hope. As of Tuesday, that hope is officially dead.
On Tuesday, two Colorado state senators, both Democrats, were recalled by voters for their votes in favor of gun control. Gun-rights advocates instigated the recall drives; the National Rifle Association spent $360,000, sending mailers and airing television ads calling the lawmakers “too extreme for Colorado.” Gun-control proponents, buoyed by donations from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, outspent their opponents five to one. But the NRA turned the money against the lawmakers, painting them as pawns of fancy-pants out-of-state liberal interests. And the NRA won.
Democrats and gun-control advocates have come up with a number of rosy rationalizations to minimize the loss. Gun-rights campaigners failed to collect enough signatures to initiate two other recalls, they point out, so the victory was really mixed. The gun-control laws passed by the Colorado legislature remain in place, and Democrats retain control of both houses. Tuesday’s recall was a low-turnout election with procedural irregularities that made it harder for people to vote. Both lawmakers represented tough districts, particularly Senator Angela Giron, whose district was Democratic but culturally conservative; she lost by 12 points, while state Senate President John Morse lost by fewer than 400 votes.
All those things are true. And they don’t matter.
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From Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, you can drive a narrow, two-lane road to Washington Avenue, cross the highway, and arrive about five minutes later at the headquarters of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the nation’s “other” gun lobby. You’ve likely never heard of the NSSF—they’ve kept a lower public profile than the National Rifle Association, but they’ve been quietly shaping American gun culture for more than half a century. Now, they’ve begun to play a much more influential role in politics.
Every year from 1998 through 2010, the NRA spent at least ten times more than the NSSF on direct lobbying. Today those numbers are converging—the NRA has spent $1.7 million so far in 2013, compared to $1.1 million spent by the NSSF, mostly in efforts to loosen state requirements for concealed carry permits. The NRA still boasts the political muscle to sway the outcome of major legislation, but the big gun lobby’s intervention is conspicuous and subject to ridicule, and an NRA campaign contribution can sometimes become a political liability—in a 2013 PPP poll, 39% of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate backed by the NRA, whereas only 26% said they’d be more likely to. This April, when Senator Mitch McConnell (the NRA’s single biggest recipient of campaign contributions) used procedural tactics to block an expanded background check bill, NRA Board member Adolphous Busch publicly resigned from the organization, saying the group “clearly places priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers while disregarding the opinions of [its] 4 million individual members.”
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"How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”
To our knowledge, no one — not even the NRA — has proposed a national database of the mentally ill. Since similar databases of sex offenders have done little to protect children from sex crimes, that seems unlikely to help. Also, few organizations have done more than the NRA to block the registration of anything, as they work vigorously to defeat gun registration databases wherever they find them.
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The NRA is a mighty thing. But as mighty as it is, it is no match for the political power of the “parent lobby” in this country. If we parents ever decided to take a stand between our children and the gun lobby, we would perhaps be shielding thousands of our kids from the deadly bullets yet to come.
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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)