It took the massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut for the country to – we hope – get serious about regulating guns. That is a huge price to pay. The horrendous crime at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was the 16th mass murder in the United States this year. The 16th! This number does not include the gun violence that occurs in our cities and towns daily.
The nation has hit bottom with regard to gun violence. Perhaps, finally, it can admit out loud, “We have a gun problem.”
We agree with those who note that preventing mass killings and violence is complex and multi-sided. Universal mental health access is certainly a piece of the puzzle. Ending promotion of militarism in an increasingly violent culture is another.
But the mass bloodshed could not happen without the widespread availability of guns, and increasingly lethal ones, both legally and illegally. The question is: Will we be able to pull together a broad enough coalition to confront and curb those who profit from manufacturing and dealing in these individual weapons of mass destruction?
Much discussion rightly focuses on the National Rifle Association and its power. It and related groups are often referred to as “the gun lobby.”
The NRA gun lobby is strategically aligned with political, economic and social forces grouped around the Republican Party and far-right elements. For example, the ultra-right, anti-labor Koch Brothers fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has successfully written and passed NRA-backed state laws that allow concealed weapons, guns at schools and “shoot-to-kill” defense – such as Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law that George Zimmerman hid behind when he murdered teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.
The NRA and its related associations claim to represent individual gun owners and hunters. But no matter how many gun owners are members of “gun lobby” organizations, that is NOT who these organizations truly represent. Who they truly represent are the multi-billion-dollar arms industry – the manufacturers and dealers (Walmart is the nation’s top gun seller) of death and destruction. It’s an industry – backed by Wall Street – whose only interest is keeping those profits high. Major gun manufacturers are owned by big Wall Street players. Bushmaster, maker of the rifle used by the Newtown killer, is one of several firearm makes owned by the powerful Cerberus Capital Management. With the public outcry after the Newtown massacre, Cerberus announced it would sell its firearm holdings. The Wall Street Journal reported corporations are looking “to distance themselves from guns and gun makers amid a public outcry.” But unless there is a sustained public movement to curb guns as a source of profit, the corporate profit drive will continue to push guns to make money.
How do corporations keep profits high? One way is to increase demand. That’s where the “gun lobby” steps in. Shrouded in the most right-wing interpretation of the Constitution, the gun lobby peddles fear, racism and paranoia to the American public to pump up gun sales. They say, protect yourself from crime, from the government, from Obama, from Black people, from Mexicans and the Chinese, from economic collapse and apocalypse, from you name it. Unfortunately millions of people buy into it – and buy guns and assault weapons. News media have reported the killer’s mother had guns because she was a “prepper,” part of a movement that is preparing for economic catastrophe. Newtown itself was a victim of the “gun lobby,” which blocked a local law enforcement initiative to bar people from shooting their weapons within 500 feet of a home.
There are billions of profits being made in the legal civilian gun trade. (Not to mention in military and law enforcement weapons sales.) Corporations also profit from the illegal gun trade. Banks, most recently HSBC, have been found to launder drug and gun-trafficking money to the tune of billions in profits. Guns and drugs go hand in hand with the high numbers of shootings in Chicago and other cities.
There are common sense first steps that can be taken to begin to rein in the powerful and destructive gun lobby. Ban assault weapons and high capacity bullet clips to start. That will send a message to the gun profiteers – and the country as a whole – that public safety comes before corporate profits.
Photo: Moveon.org image used in vigils across the country in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. (Moveon/FB)