Tuesday, April 18, 2023
The National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting in Indianapolis this past weekend calls to mind the 1965 Four Tops hit, “It’s the Same Old Song.” It was more of the same from the organization itself and the Republican presidential candidates addressing the gathering, predictably competing for whom could sing the loudest and most slavishly off the nation’s predominant gun lobby’s song sheet. Within the confines of the Indiana Convention Center, the problem of mounting gun deaths and mass shootings was caused by everything except the number of guns flooding our nation, nearly 400 million all together, many of which are weapons of war. In fact, more guns in more hands continued to be offered as a credible solution.
To give the gathering a full retro feel, there was Wayne LaPierre, one of politics’ fierce survivors, still at the center of everything and fully in charge. The long-time NRA CEO has withstood a financial scandal in which he billed the kind of luxury goods and accommodations to the organization that would almost make members of the Saudi royal family want to switch places with him, serious organization-wide financial difficulties. and pitched internal strife. As a political force, however, the NRA’s influence remains formidable–if somewhat reduced –across the nation and particularly potent within the Republican Party.
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But, in the wake of mass shootings in Nashville, Louisville, and in a small Alabama town as well as rising gun deaths, the NRA’s absolutist stance and stubborn rejection of even the most minimal gun safety measures seemed particularly tone deaf. It is also one that a series of recent national polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans increasingly reject.
This is in part because its’ argument defies the facts and basic common sense. The murder rate and the gun homicide rate in the United States are by multiples greater than in other high-income nations, while the degree of mental illness, for example, is more than in other higher-income nations, but by nowhere near the same multiples. “The homicide rate in the US was 7.5 times higher than the homicide rate in the other high-income countries combined, which was largely attributable to a firearm homicide rate that was 24.9 times higher,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Nearly half of the civilian-owned guns in the world are owned by Americans, even though we comprise less than 5% of the world’s population, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. We also have far less robust gun safety regulations than other high-income nations. This deadly combination is what drives our rising amount of gun deaths.
More specifically, there was a 23% rise in gun deaths among all Americans between 2019 and 2021, from 39, 707 to 48,830, according to Pew Research Center. The number of children and teenagers killed by guns increased by 50% over that same time period. Guns are now the number one cause of death among our youth.
A modest package of federal gun safety measures did pass last year over the strong objections of the NRA, breaking a long-time congressional logjam on this topic by gathering sufficient Republican support, including the vote of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The package included more in-depth background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21, incentives for states to adopt red flag laws, which provide a procedure for removing guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others (19 states have now done so), and tighter restrictions on straw purchases, among other components.
Much more needs to be done at both the federal and state level, however. Among the top priorities are a limit on magazine capacity, a ban on assault weapons and a full closing of the loopholes that remain in our background check system. More states need to adopt red flag laws. None of these proposed measures—federal or state– fundamentally impede the right to bear arms and all are constitutional.
That won’t stop the NRA from continuing to oppose even the most minimal gun safety laws and to do so singing the “same old song.” It’s a song, however, that is wearing increasingly thin on most Americans. This does create an opening for more incremental progress on gun safety—progress that can be achieved, but only if the rest of us demand it.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits, businesses, and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.