Lethal equation: Gerrymandering + campaign contributions = no gun control laws

Gun Rights

A law enforcement officer walks as people are evacuated from a shopping center where a shooting occurred Saturday in Allen, Texas. People are asking why, when overwhelming majorities want weapons of mass destruction off the streets, it seems impossible to get such legislation passed. The answer lies in the extremely gerrymandered districts that allow right wing Republicans to remain in office even as they ignore the wishes of their constituents and in the huge amounts of money the NRA pours into the campaigns of the right wing extremists. | LM Otero/AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Even a majority of voters in deep-red Tennessee want more gun controls. But despite a recent massacre at a Christian school outside Nashville where the shooter killed three adults and three nine-year-olds, and protests and demonstrations afterwards, they didn’t get them.

Instead, Republican state legislative majorities wouldn’t even allow debate on gun control measures.

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And the Republican-gerrymandered state House threw two outspoken gun-control advocates, State Reps. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis and Justin Jones, D-Nashville, out of their seats and almost threw out Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. Jones and Pearson are Black. The Republican majority in the Tennessee House is all white except for one Indian-American.

It’s a pattern that’s been repeated all over the country on up to and through Congress. The lethal equation is Republican gerrymandering plus campaign contributions—by the notoriously radical right gun lobby, the National Rifle Association—equals no gun control legislation.

That includes Texas, site of another gun massacre on May 7, the latest in a spate of shootings in the Lone Star State. In this one, Mauricio Garcia, a 33-year-old Army veteran wearing an RWDS (Right Wing Death Squad) patch on his clothing, drove up to the Allen Mall in suburban Dallas, pulled out an AR-15 assault weapon and started firing. Eight people died and others were injured before an off-duty police officer shot him.

It was the eighth mass shooting in the Lone Star State in the last 14 years, the Texas Tribune reported. Predictably, the state’s far-outnumbered Democratic legislators demanded more gun controls, including a ban on AR-15s—and right-wing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott “downplayed the role of the assault style rifle used in the shooting” and opposed any more gun controls.

One of the Texas massacres, of two teachers and 19 kids in an Uvalde elementary school, actually broke a 30-year congressional deadlock on some gun control legislation. Then, even Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former majority whip, joined in crafting a bipartisan gun curbs bill.

But his colleague, right-winger Ted Cruz, the #2 recipient congressional gun lobby money since 2014, didn’t. And Uvalde didn’t change the Republican majority’s minds in the legislature, either. They haven’t considered gun controls in years. In 2015, Texas lawmakers went the other way, approving an open-carry law.

And Abbott signed it—in a ceremony held at a gun shop.

See a pattern here?

Public opinion polls consistently show 80% or more of voters nationally support various types of gun controls, from so-called “red flag” laws to assault weapons bans to controls on gun magazines. And the support is tri-partisan: Democrats, independents and Republicans, though the Republican support is less, with Trumpite MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) Republicans dragging down the party’s overall numbers nationwide.

Even in Tennessee.

A Vanderbilt University poll of registered voters split between the state’s three regions—the Memphis-centered western (182), Nashville (209), the rest central Tennessee (241) and Knoxville-moored east (371)—shows 82% support and 10% oppose the mild step Republican Gov. Bill Lee took after the school shootings: An executive order expanding background checks of gun buyers. And 72% support red flag laws while half support an assault rifle ban.

The Republican legislative response: “One thing I hear from my constituents a lot is they want to make sure we protect those freedoms and liberties enumerated in the (U.S.) Constitution,” specifically its Second Amendment with the “right to keep and bear arms” statement, state Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, told Nashville’s NewsChannel5.

Texas support for more gun control isn’t as strong (44%), a public policy poll for the University of Texas at Austin shows, with 36% saying the laws should stay the same and 13% saying they should be weaker. Tea Party/MAGA Republicans drag the support numbers down (14%), and boost the stay-the-same (58%) and weaken-the-laws (26%) figures.

So why is there still no action on gun control, in the states and—except for after Uvalde—in Congress? Two answers: Gerrymandering and the National Rifle Association.

In a 2019 op-ed, former Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder and Center for American Progress President Neera Tamden provided the gerrymandering link.

“Politicians use partisan gerrymandering to hand-pick their voters instead of allowing the people to choose their representatives,” Holder and Tamden wrote then. “Once their reelection is assured, these politicians frequently ignore the voters’ concerns about some of the most pressing issues of our time–including curbing the epidemic of gun violence.

“In its most pernicious form, partisan gerrymandering can allow a particular party to earn a minority of the statewide vote but still hold a majority of seats in the state legislatures–or in the U.S. House. Put another way, a majority of the people can be governed by the minority party. This corruption of the democratic process has occurred with alarming frequency in recent years.”

In CAP’s study of state legislative voting in North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the think tank found that a slim majority of all popular votes—51%–went to Democrats, but Republicans controlled all four legislatures. Though they did not say so, Wisconsin was the worst case of the four, with Democrats getting 55% of the state legislative vote, and Republicans 63% of the seats.

And other studies have ranked Tennessee as the most-gerrymandered state in U.S., at least on its state legislative lines. And though some 35% of Tennessee voters are registered Democrats, eight of its nine U.S. House seats are Republican-held.

“Partisan gerrymandering allows these politicians–who know they will retain majorities before the elections even happen–to stop listening to the citizens of their state while they pander to the extremes of their base and the special interests who fund their reelection. Just ask advocates trying to address the critical issue of preventing gun violence,” Tamden and Holder wrote.

Which brings up the extreme of the National Rifle Association.

Politicians, especially Republicans, kowtow to the notorious “gun lobby” for two reasons. One is its three million members vote how the lobby tells them to, and the lobby’s only issue is to preserve and expand “the right to keep and bear arms.” It hates any and all gun controls. That’s the extreme base—the same extreme base that opposes gun controls in that Texas poll.

The other is the NRA’s campaign cash. In so many words, money talks.

Though it’s currently reeling under massive charges of financial fraud and finagling with its members’ dollars, OpenSecrets.org figures show it has given massive campaign contributions to pro-right-wing Republicans over the last decade—and also spent millions of dollars on campaign ads denigrating gun control advocates.

From 1989-2022, the top 20 recipients of direct NRA campaign cash were all Republicans. Texas’s Cruz was second to Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., now the House Majority Leader. “The NRA and other gun rights groups are loaded for bear with a seemingly limitless stash of cash ammunition,” OpenSecrets reported.

Gun groups and their allies, including firearms manufacturers, “gave more than $75.1 million to federal candidates, parties and outside spending groups from 1989 through the third quarter of 2022, with 90% of the funds contributed to candidates and parties going to Republicans. The NRA is consistently the top contributing organization among gun rights groups,” it said.

Energized by the March For Our Lives movement, which in turn was sparked by the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre of three union (AFT) teachers and 14 students at Florida’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, pro-gun control groups outspent the NRA for the first time: $9.8 million-$7.7 million.

But the NRA came out back on top in 2020, but it spent most of its $29 million to try to re-elect vociferous gun rights advocate Donald Trump to the Oval Office. The two sides tied in spending, at $13.3 million each in direct spending on candidates, in the 2022 balloting.

The margin was even worse in lobbying, with the NRA again accounting for the lion’s share of special interest cash in wooing lawmakers to support unlimited guns.

“Gun rights groups spent a record $15.8 million on lobbying in 2021 and $196.5 million in lobbying since 1998,” OpenSecrets said.

“Groups advocating for gun control spent a record $2.9 million in 2021. But gun control advocates, led by Giffords and Everytown for Gun Safety—the group established after the Sandy Hook school shooter killed 20 kids and six teachers in Connecticut–spent $30.1 million on lobbying from 1998 through the third quarter of 2022. That’s about six and a half times less than gun rights groups spent over the same period.”

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg


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