Firing AR-15s With the NRA’s Top Recruiter

In one of America’s most liberal counties, no less.

0-nra faggot

“By now it’s well known,” a grim-faced President Obama intoned last Wednesday after the Senate killed a package of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence, “that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun. We’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness. Ninety percent of Americans support that idea.”

Those Americans, however, were in short supply on a recent evening at Rickey’s Sports Theatre & Grill in San Leandro, California, in whose parking lot one could spot jacked-up pickup trucks with bumper stickers like: “Liberal: A person so open minded that their brains have fallen out.”

I showed up at the bar to check out the monthly meeting of the NRA Members Council of Alameda County, a county that swings liberal, to say the least: the Free Speech Movement. People’s Park riots. Anti-war protests. The Black Panthers. Barbara Lee. Occupy Oakland. Berkeley. Quasi-legal pot. Alameda County has it all. If it were any further to the left, it might fall into the Pacific Ocean. Which is why it struck me as an unlikely home base for the National Rifle Association’s most prolific grassroots recruiter—by a long shot.

Last year, the Alameda County group signed up more than 2,000 new NRA members—more than twice as many as any of the gun lobby’s “club recruiters”—a category that includes fishing, hunting, and shooting groups all across America. The only folks who deliver more warm bodies to the NRA are individuals who work as professional recruiters, major gun dealers, and gun-related media outlets such as the website USACarry.com.

Inside the bar’s ramshackle banquet room, council president Jeff Torres held his NRA Lifetime Member cap across his camo-hunting-vest-covered heart as 40 local gun owners rose for the pledge. Next, his vice president, Paul Nelson, announced that the council has recruited nearly 1,100 new NRA members at a recent gun show near San Francisco, and as a result would receive more than $12,000 in commissions from the national group. “The stronger we get, the more the government has to listen,” said Torres, a retired professional bowler who wears auto-tint trucker glasses. “This is what these member councils are about.”

The members council system was created in the late 1980s by Southern California auto parts salesman Paul Payne to “bring the policies, programs, and objectives of the NRA to the local level.” Payne now works full-time for the NRA coordinating the program, which operates solely in California, yet remains the closest thing the national organization has to a local chapter network. Most other grassroots gun groups operate independently, but the state’s 31 members councils work closely with the NRA on recruitment, special events, and lobbying. “We are the shock troops,” one member tells me.

“People are scared that there are going to have their rights taken away,” Torres responded when I asked about the group’s recruiting prowess. The new recruits, he said, are people who have been worried (apparently in vain) about federal gun control legislation, as well as a raft of laws currently under consideration in California—including an ammo tax and a ban on semi-automatic rifles that accept removable magazines. The speed at which the local council has been able to attract new members suggests that, if anything, public outcry following the Newtown massacre has merely made the NRA stronger. Gun owners may be in the minority, but they have rallied to the cause.

At Rickey’s, over pints of Drake’s IPA and baskets of onion rings, the council members dissected each of dozens of proposed national and state gun control measures. Alan, an accountant with a tidy mustache who owns two AR-15s, expressed his view that participating in a gun buyback would be “like getting castrated because you think the neighbors have too many kids.” Banning high-capacity magazines, he added, would do nothing because, “with 3-D printers you can push these things out like hotcakes.” He also ridiculed laws promoting biometric “smart guns” as the creation of “dumb politicians.”

Alan got particularly worked up by the use of the phrase “gun rights.” At the mere thought of it, he raised his voice and began gesticulating wildly. “Guns don’t have rights! People have rights!” he shouted as he bent down and stabbed the middle of my table with his finger. “Every time you fall into the trap of talking about gun rights, you fall into the Saul Alinsky nonsense of making the gun the focus and not your rights! Stop this gun rights crap!”

Civil rights,” added someone sitting nearby.

A few weeks after that first meeting, I dropped in on the council’s “fun shoot” at the San Leandro Rifle and Pistol Range, a strip of targets and benches sandwiched between a city dump and a wastewater treatment plant at the edge of town. The session, intended for novice shooters, began with a short safety class, followed by the chance to shoot members’ guns. I squeezed off some rounds from a Glock semi-automatic, a Smith & Wesson revolver, and one of Alan’s assault rifles. He told me he used to clean an AR-15 on his balcony in Oakland, in plain sight of the local crack dealers, in what he and a friend called “neighborhood relations days.”

Despite the county’s ethnic diversity (it was only 34 percent Caucasian as of 2010), most of the members I met were white men. (The council does have a smattering of women, as well as black, Asian, and Latino members.) But the most notable minority at the meetings seems to be liberals. The only one I encountered was Audie Bock, who, for a brief period in the late ’90s, became the nation’s highest-ranking member of the Green Party, representing Oakland and Piedmont voters in the state Assembly. The NRA is “the only nationwide institution that is really standing up for constitutional rights,” says Bock, who has since quit the Greens and calls herself an independent.

Of course, many people join the Alameda County Members Council for reasons that have nothing to do with the Constitution. The group’s leaders say most of its members enroll at area gun shows, where buying an NRA membership gets you through the door for free. Others simply enjoy talking shop about gun specs, or teaching or attending workshops on how to make bullets at home. And then there’s Joy Bailey, a permed and petite 78-year-old widow I met at Ricky’s, who lives alone with her ailing dog. “I have absolutely nothing to protect myself,” she told me. “If somebody comes in through that door, I want to have a gun.”

Senior citizens, in fact, predominate at the local council meetings, which is one reason the council recently reached out to the University of California-Berkeley College Republicans. I tag along as council member Guy Smith, the editor of GunFacts.info, visits the campus in his trademark black cowboy boots to address a classroom full of students in sweatshirts and flip-flops. Following his 45-minute training session on NRA talking points—”Do guns kill people? Yeah. But guns also keep people from getting killed”—the students invite him to their traditional post-meeting soiree at Yogurt Town.

That’s where I run into Andrew Glidden, a tall, skinny, intense Cal senior who is busy geeking out with Smith on the finer points of Second Amendment case law. In the end, Glidden and Smith agreed on just about everything, except the value of joining the NRA. “They throw other civil rights issues under the bus,” Glidden tells me. He’s angry with the group for ignoring the First Amendment in calling for a ban on violent video games, and for disregarding the Fourth and Fifth amendments in pushing to place armed police in schools. “Their focus is just so much on the Second Amendment that they’ve decided that every other right is negotiable,” he says.

At the next members council meeting, Nelson, the VP, asked me to brief the group on the UC-Berkeley event. I told them the Cal students appreciated Smith’s talking points, which was true. What I left out, because I didn’t have the heart, was that it seemed like the nation’s top-recruiting NRA group might eventually find itself with a recruitment problem.

Here’s Why the NRA Won and Gabby Giffords and Mike Bloomberg Lost

Money, a tragic moment, and public support do not equal political power.

0

On NBC’s Meet the Press last month, National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre, the face of the American gun lobby, delivered this message to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg: “He’s going to find out that this is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, and he can’t spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public. He can’t buy America.” The day before, Bloomberg had announced that he would spend $12 million of his own money on an ad blitz pressing members of Congress to pass new legislation expanding background checks for gun purchases. LaPierre went on national television to tell the mayor that all those millions wouldn’t make the difference in the fight in Congress over new gun laws.

Guess what? LaPierre was right.

The Manchin-Toomey background check legislation that died in the Senate on Wednesday had everything going for it. Bipartisan sponsorship by two centrist senators. The support of 90 percent of Americans. President Obama’s full-throated backing. The momentum for reform created by tragedy and sympathetic advocates with gripping stories—ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Newtown families. All the pieces were there.

Yet it failed. The bill won a 54-vote majority but fell short of the Senate’s 60-vote thresholdto pass new laws, a high hurdle that progressives decry as undemocratic. But the main reason it failed—and this is the key point for gun control advocates—is because the NRA has unrivaled political power, the kind of influence and muscle that Bloomberg, the Brady Campaign, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Organizing for Action, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, and the rest of the gun-control lobby can only dream of.

Money alone does not equal political power. Supporters of the background check bill and new gun control laws have lots of money. Bloomberg alone has spent tens of millions of dollars through Mayors Against Illegal Guns and his self-funded super-PAC, Independence USA, to counter the influence of the gun lobby. He ousted NRA-backed congressional candidates in the 2012 elections and again this year in Illinois, where he spent more than $2 million to defeat Debbie Halvorson, a Democrat who’d previously received an A rating from the NRA, in the special primary to replace disgraced ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Bloomberg declared that his money was a warning sign for pro-gun lawmakers: Shill for the NRA and I’ll drop big money to bounce you out of office. That threat wasn’t enough to persuade a handful of Democratic senators from red states and Republican senators who were once thought of as possible votes for gun safety measures.

Obama’s political machine could not overcome the NRA’s might. A database of tens of millions of voters and the best political technology on the planet do not equal political power. The background check fight was the first real test for Organizing for Action, the advocacy group spawned from of the president’s massively successful reelection campaign. Former Obama aides created OFA to mobilize Obama supporters during legislative fights like this one, hoping to use all the names, data, and other finely honed technologies during the 2012 campaign to create the outside pressure needed to push contentious pieces of legislation across the finish line.

OFA executive director Jon Carson wrote that more than 22,000 people called the Senate on Wednesday demanding passage of Manchin-Toomey. But there were no reports of crippled phone lines or a massive surge of public interest similar to what was seen during the legislative debates over health care reform or financial reform. OFA devoted time and money organizing its members, but it wasn’t enough.

Nor does public opinion equal political power. As political scientist Jonathan Bernsteinrecently pointed out, one of the big mistakes of the latest gun control debate was equating public support for reform with public demand for reform:

Those people who have been pushing for marriage equality? They were calling for change. And marching for it, demanding it, donating money to get it, running for office to achieve it, and supporting candidates who would vote for it, filing lawsuits to make it legal. In many cases, they based their entire political identity around it.

Action works. “Public opinion” is barely real; most of the time, on most issues, change the wording of the question and you’ll get entirely different answers. At best, “public opinion” as such is passive. And in politics, passive doesn’t get results.

Here is what political power looks like: It’s the combination of money, intensity, and influence when it matters most. The NRA boasts all of the above. LaPierre and his NRA colleagues around the country know how to whip their members—4.5 million of them by the NRA’s count—into a frenzy. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 1 in 5 gun owners had called, written, or emailed a public official; only 1 in 10 people without a gun in the household had done the same. In the same poll, 1 in 5 gun owners said they’d given money to a group involved in the gun control debate; just 4 percent of people without a gun in the home previously gave money.

The NRA’s budget is massive: $200 million, one of the biggest among major lobbying groups. And for decades it has deployed its money and manpower to defeat its enemies in Congress and replace them with allies. Today, all 10 members of the Republican House and Senate leadershipare A-rated by the NRA. With the 2014 midterms on the horizon, the NRA undoubtedly tapped into lawmakers’ fears of receiving the gun lobby’s wrath.

In another sign of the NRA’s clout, 57 senators voted in favor of an largely symbolic amendment expanding concealed-carry rights nationwide than voted for Manchin-Toomey. That was a huge victory for the NRA and the gun rights lobby.

Kelly, the husband of Gabby Giffords and one of the most vocal supporters of new gun control laws, saw the NRA’s influence firsthand. Kelly says he met with numerous senators and explained to them, in painstaking detail, how the Manchin-Toomey bill would prevent future gun violence while not curbing gun rights. “We would meet with a US senator who says they agree with the policy, they know it will save lives, but they can’t vote for it,” he says. “They couldn’t give us a reason why they wouldn’t vote for it.”

But Kelly had little doubt why these senators wouldn’t vote for the bill. “The gun lobby is a considerable force to contend with,” he says. “It’s not influence that is backed by the American people. It is backed by a lot of money and a small, very vocal, and, in my opinion, an organization that has some extreme ideas about gun safety and about violence in this country.”

This is not to say the gun control lobby will never amass the kind of political power needed to best the NRA. Bloomberg, after all, has only thrown his money into this fight for a few years; OFA didn’t exist until January. Kelly says that Americans for Responsible Solutions, his and Giffords’ pro-gun-control nonprofit/super-PAC combo that launched in January, will soon reach 1 million supporters, and that the group plans to run ads targeting Democratic and Republican senators for their “no” votes on Manchin-Toomey. Obama and OFA vowed that Wednesday’s vote was merely round one in a prolonged battle.

For now, though, the power lies with the NRA. And it will be some time before the other side catches up.

Inside the NRA’s Koch-Funded Dark-Money Campaign

How the National Rifle Association sold its grassroots firepower to the Kochs, Karl Rove, and conservative donors.

speedracer5050  is a faggot and a troll
speedracer5050 is a faggot and a troll

“This election is going to be won on the ground,” Chris Cox, the National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist, told me early last year as the gun lobby prepared to launch its all-out campaign to defeat Barack Obama. Historically, pro-gun voters have favored Republicans by a margin of 2- or 3-to-1, but that only matters if they vote. And, Cox stressed, millions of gun owners were not registered yet.

The NRA’s get-out-the-vote effort, its most ambitious ever, would target gun owners from all angles. Its field workers would register them at gun shows and gun shops in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. The NRA spent millions on TV spots; one seven-figure ad buy last October attacked the president for “chipping away” at Second Amendment rights, urging Americans to “defend freedom.” Chuck Norris, a spokesman for the NRA’s Trigger the Vote campaign, warned apathetic gun owners, “I’ll come looking for the people who sat this election out.”

Mobilizing the NRA’s estimated 4 million members “is always a critical part of the equation for us on the Republican side,” says Charlie Black, a veteran GOP operative who was an adviser to Mitt Romney’s and Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaigns.

But 2012 was different: The NRA wasn’t simply reaching out to its core constituency—it was reeling in big checks from conservative funders eager to take advantage of its grassroots muscle. The arrangement was mutually beneficial: The NRA burnished its reputation as a political force to be reckoned with, while donors invested in the kind of all-out GOTV effort they had once expected from the Republican Party itself.

Overall, the NRA spent just north of $25 million on last year’s election: $7 million supporting Republican candidates, and $18 million attacking Democrats. This spending spree was boosted by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which paved the way for activist groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts explicitly promoting or attacking candidates. The NRA also appealed to patrons who preferred to fly under the radar: The organization and its lobbying arm are both 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits and do not have to reveal their donors.

The NRA likes to note that it has always been heavily dependent on membership dues and small donors. But in recent years it has pushed hard to corral major donors, starting with gun manufacturers. Since 2005, many of its biggest benefactors have come from the gun industry, which has relied on the group to fight some major legal and political battles. By 2011, some 50 gun giants had ponied up between $14 million and $38 million for the NRA’s“Ring of Freedom” fundraising drive.

But in the past couple of years, the NRA has also turned to deep-pocketed conservative allies. Last year an organization allied with the donor network of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch gave between $2 million and $3 million to the NRA’s election efforts, according to two Republican fundraisers familiar with the gun group’s campaign work. The gift, said one of the fundraisers, was seen as a smart investment beyond what the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity was already doing to boost conservative turnout. (The NRA did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

Obama’s “rich, gun-hating friends…will shower him with the money he needs,” warns the NRA’s Chris Cox. “I don’t have friends like that.”

The NRA also forged stronger links with conservative advocacy groups. Crossroads GPS, the dark-money group cofounded by Karl Rove, funneled at least $600,000 to the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), in the last two elections. Last year, NRA president David Keene attended strategy sessions hosted by American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS’s sister super-PAC, according to operatives who were there. These periodic confabs included a dozen or so key conservative players, including anti-tax crusader and NRA board member Grover Norquist and theFaith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed, who shared information about races and coordinated spending plans.

The NRA has long helped its allies round up money for their campaigns. But in recent years, some high-profile politicians have returned the favor, helping to rope in sizable donations for the group. Last September, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer teamed up with ex-NRA president Sandy Froman as a featured guest at a $250-a-head gala for the NRA-ILA. In May 2011, soon-to-be presidential candidate (and Texas governor) Rick Perry joined NRA frontman Wayne LaPierre at a couple of NRA fundraising events in Austin and Houston.

karl rove at NRA convention

American crosshairs: Karl Rove speaks at the 2008 NRA annual meeting. Lexington Herald-Leader/ZUMAPress

One, a luncheon held at Houston’s posh Coronado Club, featured a pep talk by oil and gas magnate Clayton Williams, a longtime NRA supporter who said he’d donated $1 million to the NRA’s Freedom Action Foundation in 2010, and promised to do so again in 2012. Perry also pitched in at events outside the Lone Star State, according to an NRA board member who requested anonymity. The governor, he says, was “very helpful.”

In the end, though, the 2012 election was a major disappointment for the NRA. Beyond Obama’s reelection,Democrats won six out of the seven Senate races that the gun group spent heavily on. Overall, a little more than 4 percent of its outside spending went to candidates who won their races.

Meanwhile, the NRA is facing new pressure from gun control groups, which are starting to enter the outside-spending game. Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions is aiming to raise about $20 million for its super-PAC to spend in 2014. In February, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s self-funded Independence USA super-PAC spent $2.2 million to help a pro-gun-control candidate win the Democratic primary for the Illinois House seat once held by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Still, gun control advocates have their work cut out for them: Since the Newtown school massacre, the NRA has kicked off an aggressive fundraising effort, warning once again of impending catastrophe for gun owners. In an email to members, Cox cautions that Obama’s “rich, gun-hating friends” like Bloomberg “will shower him with the money he needs to strip you of your gun rights.” He continues, “I don’t have friends like that. I’ve got something much better…YOU.”

What the NRA’s Millions Do—and Don’t—Buy

Big money isn’t the only secret to the National Rifle Association’s success. Yet is it the key to defeating it?

speedracer5050 is an asshole who trolls and Worships Gun Crime
speedracer5050 is an asshole who trolls and Worships Gun Crime

In the days leading up to last month’s crucial votes on the most significant gun control legislation to come before the Senate in nearly two decades, polls showed that about 90 percent of Americans supported background checks for all gun purchases. But when the clerk called the roll, the centerpiece amendment—requiring background checks for firearm sales at gun shows, through classified ads and on the internet—got just 54 yeas,  six votes short of the 60 vote supermajority required.

Just four months after Adam Lanza killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and President Obama promised tougher gun laws, the vote proved to be the latest in a long-running string of victories for gun rights activists, the firearms industry, and particularly the National Rifle Association, the nation’s preeminent gun lobby.

The power of the gun lobby is rooted in multiple factors, among them the pure passion and single-mindedness of many gun owners, the NRA’s demonstrated ability to motivate its most fervent members to swarm their elected representatives, and the lobby’s ability to get out the vote on Election Day. But there’s little doubt that money, the political power it represents, and the fear of that power and money, which the NRA deftly exploits, have a lot to do with the group’s ability to repeatedly control the national debate about guns. Whether that fear is justified is an intriguing question—but it clearly exists. That has, perhaps, never been clearer than it was last month on Capitol Hill.

BIG MONEY, BIG GAPS

For starters, the dollars and cents disparities are nothing short of staggering. The NRA and its allies in the firearms industries, along with the even more militant Gun Owners of America, have together poured nearly $81 million into House, Senate, and presidential races since the 2000 election cycle, according to federal disclosures and a Center for Responsive Politics analysis done for the Center for Public Integrity.

The bulk of the cash—more than $46 million—has come in the form of independent expenditures made since court decisions in 2010 (especially the Supreme Court’sCitizens United decision) essentially redefined electoral politics. Those decisions allowed individuals, corporations, associations, and unions to make unlimited “independent” expenditures aimed at electing or defeating candidates in federal elections, so long as the expenditures were not “coordinated” with a candidate’s actual campaign.

“Members of Congress pay attention to these numbers, and they know that in the last election cycle the NRA spent $18.6 million on various campaigns,” says Lee Drutman , who has studied the role of gun money in politics for the Sunlight Foundation. “They know what the NRA is capable of doing and the kinds of ads they’re capable of running, and especially if you’re someone facing a close election, you don’t want hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of dollars in advertising to go against you.”

In the decade before Citizens United, from the 2000 election cycle to 2010, much of the money was donated directly to campaigns. During that period, pro-gun interests so thoroughly dominated electoral spending as to render gun control forces all but irrelevant, having directly donated fully 28 times the amount of their opponents in House and Senate races, $7 million on the pro-gun side compared to $245,000 on the gun control side. Of the total expended by gun rights interests, fully $3.9 million was delivered by the NRA. Since the Citizens United decision, gun control interests have gained new financial muscle, thanks largely to independent expenditures totaling at least $11.6 million by activist New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and groups tied to Bloomberg—nothing to sneeze at, but still just a fraction of that $46 million in post-2010 gun rights money.

Among the 46 senators who voted to prevent any expansion of background checks, 43 have received help—either direct campaign contributions or independent expenditures—from pro-gun interests since 2000; in aggregate about $8.5 million. NRA expenditures ranged anywhere from a $95 contribution in one race to more than $2.6 million spent on the 2010 election of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). A total of 38 of those senators have gotten $15,000 or more in overall NRA help since 2000. Among the leaders: Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), $1.2 million; Rob Portman (R-Ohio), $1.35 million; Richard Burr (R-N.C.), $852,000: John Thune (R-S.D.), $717,000; and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), $355,000. In several races, gun rights groups spent independent money both for one candidate and against his opponent (see chart). Forty-one of the 46 who voted with gun rights groups against expanded background checks were Republican.

Five Democrats also voted against the background check amendment, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did so to preserve his right under the Senate’s arcane rules to bring the measure up again. Reid, who has a B rating from the NRA, has benefited from $30,200 from gun rights groups since 2000, including $18,400 from the NRA. The other four Democrats who bucked their party and voted with the NRA, have benefited from a mere $30,830 in total funding from gun rights groups since 2000. Max Baucus of Montana (NRA A+) was the beneficiary of $28,830 while Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (NRA C-) got $2,000. Mark Begich of Alaska (NRA A) and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota (NRA A) have received no money from gun rights groups.

As for the 54 senators who voted in favor of expanding background checks, at least 18 of them have also benefited from gun rights group help since 2000. By far the largest chunk—$1.7 million—benefited a single NRA “defector,” Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), the coauthor of the background check amendment. The money those 54 have received since 2000 from gun control groups totals just $608,827.

MAYOR MIKE AND HIS FORCES

Bloomberg, who founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2006, is a relatively new player in the gun debate but apparently wants to level the playing field. With a fortune estimated byForbes magazine at about $27 billion, he has taken on the issue with great deliberation, organizing political allies, financing sophisticated research and, more recently, spending sizable amounts of his own money on pro-gun control television ads and elections. Prior to the most recent Senate votes Bloomberg said he would spend $12 million on issue ads aimed at 13 key senators, only four of whom ended up supporting his position. He has reportedly made a six-figure donation  to Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group run by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband Mark Kelly, which financed television ads encouraging senators to vote for tougher background checks. And Mayors Against Illegal Guns is contemplating an ad campaign  to make an example of Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor because of his vote against the background check proposal.

Most of Bloomberg’s campaign money so far has gone to House races; his Independence USA PAC, a super-PAC that can raise and spend unlimited money, has spent more than $11 million on six such races, mostly in 2012, with victories in half. In February, the PAC scored a major victory when it spent $2.8 million in Illinois to defeat NRA-endorsed former Rep. Deborah Halvorson and elect Robin Kelly, both Democrats, in a race to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Halvorson had an A rating from the NRA during her one term in Congress. Independence USA PAC also scored a victory in California where it spent $3.3 million to defeat an NRA A-rated Republican, Joe Baca, for a House seat; and it helped unseat A-rated and NRA-endorsed Republican Ann Marie Buerkle in New York. In Orlando, Fla., Bloomberg’s super-PAC spent $2 million in an unsuccessful effort to unseat Republican Daniel Webster. Webster had an A rating from the NRA, which endorsed his candidacy. His opponent, Val Demings, was rated F. In Illinois, Bloomberg spent nearly $1 million in a failed bid to keep Republican Robert Dold (NRA rating of D) in the House. Dold lost by less than 3,000 votes. Bloomberg has also spent nearly $60,000 of his own money on 16 Senate candidates since 2007, and Bloomberg also contributed $500,000 to a political action committee supporting the 2012 Senate election of Maine Independent Angus King.

Bloomberg has said he’s prepared to tap his personal fortune to support gun control—or what he prefers to call “anti-crime”—candidates and defeat those aligned with the NRA. And he recently announced that the mayors’ group will publish its own NRA-style ratings of senators on the gun issue. He hasn’t said how much he’s willing to spend, but if the races he’s gotten involved in so far are any indication, it’s going to be a lot. Stefan Friedman, the spokesman for Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC, said the NRA has had “a wide open playing field for decades” and that’s no longer the case. “The Mayor’s been relatively clear in the wake of last [month’s] decisions in Washington and in other comments that this is an issue he cares passionately about.” So far, Bloomerg’s Independence USA PAC may only be batting 50 percent, but no one seriously doubts that a few million dollars thrown at a race for a House seat or a state legislative contest could have a huge effect. If Bloomberg is serious about staying in this game, he will undoubtedly make a difference. Says NRA president David Keene, “We can’t outspend Bloomberg.”

A COMPLEX CALCULUS

That remains to be seen. But a closer look at the background check vote—and NRA influence generally—reveals that there’s more at play than just cash. A lot more. The backgrounds and histories of the two sponsors of the background check amendment—Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican—illustrate some of those complexities.

Both Manchin and Toomey have A ratings from the NRA—or at least they did until last month. Both represent states with large numbers of gun owners. Pennsylvania has more NRA members than any other state, and sells more hunting licenses  each year (2.5 million in 2012) than any state except Wisconsin. And Toomey has been the Senate’s leading beneficiary of NRA largesse. In 2010 the NRA spent more than $1.79 million to elect him and an additional $1.15 million on negative advertising to defeat his Democratic opponent Joe Sestak Jr. Thanks in part to those court decisions that loosened campaign finance limits, the nearly $3 million the NRA spent on the Toomey race was more than three times the total amount spent by the NRA for all of Toomey’s Senate colleagues combined between 2000 and 2010.

Asked about its spending on Toomey—the most the NRA has ever spent on any candidate—NRA president Keene joked, “It just shows what money can do for you.” The reality, however, as Keene acknowledged, is that the NRA’s spending on that particular race—in which Toomey spent a total of $17 million against his opponent’s $12 million—may have very well made a critical difference. Toomey won by only two percent of the vote.

But when it came to Toomey’s vote on expanded background checks, other factors were at play. “The Manchin-Toomey proposal,” says G. Terry Madonna , a political scientist and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College, “is very similar to a Pennsylvania law which was approved by a legislature that was Republican controlled, and signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Ridge with the support of the NRA.” According to Madonna, Pennsylvania’s expanded background checks, first approved in 1995 and amended in 1998, were non-controversial.

Defending his proposal on the Senate floor, Toomey was careful to affirm his pro-gun credentials, insisting that “there is absolutely no way that this can be construed as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.” He argued that his proposal was a modest effort “to make it a little bit more difficult for criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to purchase handguns.” Toomey noted that under current Pennsylvania law, “anyone who buys a handgun anywhere at any time has a background check.” Having lived with such checks for more than a decade, Toomey apparently agrees with Madonna that they have been a non-issue for most of his constituents.

Nevertheless, the history of the background check issue still speaks to the power of the NRA. The organization knows it can’t win every race or every vote. But it can turn what was once a total non-issue—expanded background checks—into a matter of existential concern for senators. Making that case at the national level was particularly audacious because the NRA not only endorsed background checks for Pennsylvania back in 1995, in 1999 it supported them for the nation at large. Testifying before Congress following the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre testified  that “it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”

Asked about the contradiction at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing  in January, LaPierre equivocated, but said the NRA believes the current law is not being enforced and therefore should not be expanded. “I think the National Instant [Criminal Background] Check System the way it’s working now is a failure because this administration is not prosecuting the people that they catch” when they fail a background check.

ONe Nation Under Guns — Reposted from Huffington.com

idealisticrebel

One Nation Under The Gun: Thousands Of Gun Deaths Since Newtown

Posted: 03/22/2013 9:38 pm EDT  |  Updated: 06/05/2013 5:16 pm EDT

Jason Cherkis   jason.cherkis@huffingtonpost.com

One Month

Devin Aryal

On the morning of his murder, Feb. 11, Devin Aryal, 9, dressed to the ticking of his race car clock. His collection of stuffed animals, won from those arcade claw games, stared back at him from their perch on his top bunk.

Devin felt he had outgrown the cutesy animal prints that had adorned the walls of his Oakdale, Minn., bedroom. He was in fourth grade now, after all. Without tellinganyone, he had yanked the prints off his walls one by one. He had yet to decide how to fill up the blank spaces.

The night before, Devin had watched the Disney channel and played with his pirate gear and a couple of toy dinosaurs on his mother’s bed. He snuggled with her on the…

View original post 9,020 more words

NRA Guns & Policies Kill 8 American Kids Everyday of the Year In The USA

Everyday NRA Policies and Guns Kill 8 American Kids

Kids and guns: ‘These are not isolated tragedies’

  • A study of Colorado trauma center data finds a high number of kids’ gun injuries
  • Expert: More of this kind of research should be done
  • Federal law prevents agencies from using funds to promote gun control

Dr. Angela Sauaia and her colleagues intended to study the impact modernized playground equipment had on lowering children’s injury rates. They ended up studying kids’ injury rates from guns instead.

The associate professor of public health, medicine and surgery at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora said she was neither motivated by the recent mass shooting in her area nor driven by politics.

“My colleagues and I were doing a study on playground injuries, because they were doing some remodeling projects here, and we wanted to see if that would change the playground injury rate,” Sauaia said.

“When we started coding the trauma data, which includes all types of childhood injuries that turn up at these trauma centers, and we noticed the morbid pattern of gun violence-related injuries for children … that shifted the focus of the study to document violence related to injuries involving gunshots.”

The data, she said, showed a surprising number of children were being injured, many of them seriously, by guns.

“We had the impression that mass shootings caused so many injuries and those normally do get a lot of national attention, but in looking at the numbers, gun violence was happening to children on a routine basis, and it was mostly happening out of the spotlight,” Sauaia said. “These are not isolated tragedies.”

She and her colleagues knew they were on to something, putting together a research letter called “Firearm Injuries of Children and Adolescents in 2 Colorado Trauma Centers: 2000-2008,” which was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The data covers some of the years between the two mass shootings in the Denver area — the 1999 one at Columbine High School that resulted in 13 deaths and more than 20 injuries before the shooters took their own lives, and July’s mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora that killed 12 people and wounded 58.

“In the years we studied, we didn’t expect to see this many childhood injuries due to everyday gun violence,” Sauaia said. “And far too many of these were self-inflicted.”

Intentionality was difficult to determine from the data — some of the self-inflicted wounds were suicide, while others appeared accidental in nature.

The bottom line, said Sauaia: Children having access to guns.

“No matter what side you are on in the gun debate, I’ve never met a person that believes kids should have easy access to guns,” Sauaia said. “The data clearly shows this is a real public health concern for children.”

Overall, 6,920 youths were injured and cared for by these trauma centers between 2000 and 2008, according to the research. Of those, 129 had injuries from firearms, and those injuries were extremely serious compared with the others.

Of the gun injuries, 50.4% required intensive care, compared with 19.3% for other trauma-related injuries. Some 13.2% died, compared with the 1.7% injured in another way. A total of 14% of the gunshot wounds were coded as “self-inflicted.”

The research is a good and descriptive small-scale study, said Jon Vernick, an associate professor and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, but it also is a good reminder that public health experts need to do more of this kind of research.

“This study shows firearm injures are more likely to result in a death or a treatment in the ICU than other injuries,” he said. “That should make the case for how important it is to find ways to prevent those kinds of injuries from occurring.”

Historically, he argued, public health studies such as this one have led to positive changes.

Because people studied why car accidents happened in the 1960s, for instance, public health advocates knew how to improve injury rates from such crashes, Vernick said. Consequently, such injuries declined dramatically.

“They didn’t just try to make drivers safer or try to criminalize (drunken) driving — that alone wouldn’t have worked,” Vernick said. “Because we had the research, we also knew we had to make cars safer, make the environment safer, change the social norm to make it socially unacceptable to drive drunk.

“All of this concerted effort was a public health success story, and it came about because we had the research. We haven’t had the same robust research agenda on gun violence over the last two decades, and so we are not seeing the same dramatic decline in deaths and injuries.

Data, Sauaia said, are available from trauma centers, but there is limited funding for studies.

Federal funding for gun research, however, is rare, outside of federal grants that are available to study other injuries. That’s deliberate. Since 1996, federal law has prohibited all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health from using funds, “in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”

The National Rifle Association pushed for the legislation, maintaining that government research into gun violence is unnecessary.

“What works to reduce gun violence is to make sure that criminals are prosecuted and those who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others don’t have access to firearms,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told CNN in January, “not to carry out more studies.”

A strongly worded editorial published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January called the federal government’s “neglect” of firearm injuries as a public health issue a “national shame.” It asked President Barack Obama to “make a concerted effort to get the restrictive language about using federal funds … out of future appropriations bills.”

“If the United States were to get serious about preventing firearms-related injuries and deaths, thousands of lives could be saved each year,” the authors wrote. “We can wait no longer to protect public health.”

Sauaia said she wants her paper to inform today’s debate and inspire other projects.

“We do know a lot more about how someone died of a heart attack than just how many people were injured by guns,” Sauaia said. “The data is out there; we just need the funding to be able to do this kind of work, and then hopefully we can find ways to address this major public health problem.”

A Letter from Wayne Lapierre of the NRA to the Parents of The Next Children To Be Massacred By Their Policies

Wayne LaPierre

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am so sorry that you lost your (son/daughter), among many other children, in a school shooting today.  I understand that he or she was the apple of your eye, the love of your life, your everything, your reason for existence, yada, yada, etc.  I regret that a young man who couldn’t get health care before he slipped into violent schizophrenia loaded an AR-15, a Glock 9 mm and a 12-gauge shotgun with 150 rounds of ammunition.  I feel really bad that he then drove to (Insert Name) (Elementary/Middle/High) School in (Insert Name of Typical American Town) where your child was a student.  It’s regrettable that he then stalked the halls of your child’s school with a semiautomatic assault rifle spitting dozens of rounds a minute.  I feel bad and dismayed and whatnot that your child’s liver was pulverized, his/her jaw was found in the hallway, and pieces of his/her intestines were sprayed onto the walls.  I feel totally awful that your child slowly bled to death in excruciating pain surrounded by dying classmates.  That must be tough.

I realize that you may have thought that you live in a democracy, or even a republic governed by laws. But today, we have proven that to be questionable.  The gun industry made $31.8 billion  last year.  This number climbs steadily every year.  And we will stop at nothing to make sure that number continues to climb.  I am aware that 56% of Americans  support an assault weapons ban.  I understand that Americans were horrified by what their culture has become when schoolchildren can be mowed down senselessly in a Connecticut elementary school.

Yes, I know that there was finally some political will to curb the epidemic of 30,000 gun deaths  a year in America.  But the millions  that the NRA spends in lobbying ensures that your “democratically elected Congress” can do nothing without the gun industry’s permission.  We at the NRA opened our wallet and made damn sure the entire GOP and most Democrats in red states subjugated the will of the people to the interests of corporate profit.   Because of us, the assault weapons ban bill failed in the Senate.  We made sure that corporations continue to be able to ignore the Second Amendment with impunity.  We made sure that guns will never be “well-regulated” in this country as long as they are well-profitable.

Through your grieving and whatever, I want you to understand one thing.  I realize that the child who you kissed goodbye just this morning as you dropped him/her off at school now resembles ground beef, but that is not relevant. In the end, only one thing matters in life: profit.  No one should care that your little Billy, Janie or Joey or whatever you called it died after spraying three gallons of blood all over a 2-foot high desk this morning.

The market value of your child’s life pales in comparison to the value of millions of firearms.  This is especially true when mentally unhinged people are buying entire arsenals of weapons.  The GOP has gutted mental health services across the country to balance state budgets.  And we at the NRA have advertised aggressively to stoke the paranoia  typical of mental illness.  For us, it doesn’t matter who buys the guns, as long as they are bought.  It doesn’t matter who dies as long as $31.8 billion grows to, say, $34.6 billion this year.  Your child, for whose funeral I’m sure you are busy preparing, was a tiny, insignificant cost compared to the billions in profit that the gun industry will make this year.

Don’t even think about trying to use this “tragedy” of the death of your son/daughter or whoever else to change laws.  Don’t even think about becoming civically engaged or trying to work with the system to improve society, curb the ongoing slaughter or regulate machines that are only designed to kill dozens of people in seconds.

You do not own this country, because you did not buy it.  We bought it.  We own your government.  You will get nothing.

I’m sure you’re sitting there, emotional because you lost your child.  But imagine how much the gun corporations would cry if they had lost some profit?  Imagine how emotional I would be if I didn’t get paid around $1 million  a year to lobby for the gun manufacturers?  Look at you, sitting there, thinking only about your “child” and not about MY MONEY!  You people make me sick.

Sincerely,

Wayne LaPierre

NRA Vice President

Marc Belislie  – http://www.theeverlastinggopstoppers.com/2013/03/letter-nra-parents-children-die/