Build worker power and break the NRA with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance
A member of International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 93 does some skeet shooting. | Union Sportsmen's Alliance via Facebook

Once again, our nation has found itself reeling from another explosion of senseless violence. In El Paso, 20 people lay dead and in Dayton, Ohio, lay another nine. What word other than dystopian can be used to describe a world where “bulletproof backpacks have become another back-to-school staple”?

Yet even as the body count rises, why has not a single thing has been done to address the problem? Despite President Trump’s initial overtures toward some small measure of reform, he quickly backtracked on his position after the NRA applied its political pressure. Why is this organization able to render all reform attempts—no matter how popular, reasonable, or empirically sound—dead on arrival? What are these ties that bind so tightly?

We begin to see upon inspection that this violence is a product of our specific political economy. Mass shootings are a function of the way the forces of finance capital and commodity production interact in our political system to block gun control reform.

In the U.S. capitalist economy, firearm manufacturers produce firearms for sale and profit. As private companies, they have every incentive to drive growth in demand, regardless of the social consequences. The alternative to private manufacture would be for firearm manufacturers to be publicly owned with production planned for the organized distribution of firearms with the motive being a specific use (hunting, sport, national defense, etc.), not profit. This distinction is important because, for privately-owned firearms manufacturers, increasing demand is crucial.

This problem is compounded in an era when finance capital has come to dominate our entire economic system. The second an investment manager looks at one of their investments and sees more profit could be made by switching to a different opportunity, that manager is legally bound to make that switch. In the days of digital financial technology, this means if sales (and thus profits) of firearms decline, those firms don’t just see a temporary dip in revenue, but the potential for extreme capital flight, potentially erasing millions, even billions of dollars in company value over a matter of days or even hours. They are on a relentless drive not only for increased sales but increased investment.

According to CNBC: “[T]wo of the world’s biggest money managers, BlackRock and Vanguard, are among the top shareholders of three of the biggest publicly traded gun manufacturers as well as some of the biggest gun retailers.”

Any political regulations on their industry would immediately cut into the profits for arms manufacturers and the finance capital interests that see their wealth shrink when the price of their investments go down. It’s not hard to see why these forces have thrown their political and financial resources into transforming the National Rifle Association into their lobbying, political action, and propaganda arm.

Appealing to the deeply-held association many Americans have between owning firearms and the vigorous liberty of a civic republic, the NRA brings millions of gun owners under the political leadership of monopoly finance capital; the NRA has a mass base of almost 5 million members across the country. According to Robert Spitzer in The Guardian: “They have a very powerful ability to mobilize a grassroots support and to engage in politics when most Americans can barely be bothered to vote.” It is this fusion of finance capital with a mass political base that makes the corporate gun lobby so exceptionally powerful.

If we want to diminish the political power of finance capital via the NRA, it’s clear that our most immediate task is to break the NRA’s mass base away from the political leadership of finance capital. Most gun owners support reasonable and moderate gun control measures, but they are also seriously concerned that their rights to responsible gun ownership will be obliterated. They are looking for some political force able to competently defend them.

We cannot expect to break off a significant portion of the mass membership of the NRA by convincing them that firearms are inherently immoral. We will not persuade them that their deep-seated concerns about their right to gun ownership are entirely unfounded. When dealing with millions of people, we have to meet them where they are and find a common basis for unity, even a tenuous or short-term unity, around something as important as reasonable firearms regulations.

The truth is the NRA doesn’t represent the interests of the millions of members who make up its rank and file. Instead, it represents the interests of the section of finance capital that profits from gun sales and the sections that benefit from luring these working-class voters into ultra-right, anti-working class political campaigns.

An anti-ultra-right strategy calls for splitting the political control of this Wall Street front from the millions of reasonable Americans that make up the NRA’s rank and file.

Members of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance show off some catches from North Carolina’s Lake Norman. | Union Sportsmen’s Alliance via Facebook

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance was formed in 2007 by the AFL-CIO to bring together the millions of union workers and friends of labor in order to “engage, educate, and organize union members, their families and like-minded individuals who share a passion for hunting, fishing, shooting and the great outdoors.” Since its founding only 13 years ago, the USA’s membership has expanded to over 100,000 members. Most of its board members are union leaders; no one connected to the arms industry or finance capital sits on its board, unlike the board of the NRA.

Convincing working-class gun owners to switch their membership from the NRA to the USA would erode NRA’s mass base. It would draw that base into an organization under the influence of democratic and working-class forces. Won over from the NRA, the bulk of working-class gun owners’ political pressure could then be shifted to a coalition of the moderate wing of gun owners and the political power of the organized labor movement. Common sense gun regulation could become a reality.

It’s time to convince every responsible, thoughtful gun owner to break their membership with the NRA and sign up for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, either under their union or as a “friend of labor.”

By uniting under the leadership of working-class institutions, we can roll back the power of the big monopolies, the arms manufacturers, and the ultra-right, and begin saving the lives of innocent people who might otherwise be lost to the rapacious greed of the arms manufacturers and their finance capital backers.


Jonathan Swinton
Jonathan Swinton

Jonathan Swinton is a fast food worker organizing in the South.