Gun Control 2.5
December 24, 2017
War On Drugs 3.1
January 13, 2018
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The sixth and final episode of our series on gun control and gun violence  continues our look at the United States. We explore the history of the NRA and develop our conclusions from the series.

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Theme music: Holy Deep by The Passion HiFi

Show Notes:

  • NRA
  • Let’s talk about the NRA, the National Rifle Association.
  • Why is the NRA so powerful?
  • A bit of history.
  • The group was founded in 1871 as a recreational group designed to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis”.
  • Apparently the founders had been appalled at how little their troops knew about guns during the civil war.
  • The founders were Two Yankee Civil War veterans, including an ex-New York Times reporter, who felt that war dragged on because more urban northerners could not shoot as well as rural southerners.
  • Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who was also the former governor of Rhode Island and a U.S. senator and the inventor of sideburns, became the fledgling NRA’s first president.
  • The NRA’s path into political lobbying began in 1934 when it began mailing members with information about upcoming firearms bills.
  • It started lobbying because of a couple of gun control acts that were going through Congress.
  • Can you guess the position they took on those bills?
  • THEY SUPPORTED THEM!
  • In the early 1920s, the National Revolver Association—the NRA’s handgun training counterpart—proposed model legislation for states that included requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, adding five years to a prison sentence if a gun was used in a crime, and banning non-citizens from buying a handgun.
  • They also proposed that gun dealers turn over sales records to police and created a one-day waiting period between buying a gun and getting it—two provisions that the NRA opposes today.
  • The association supported two major gun control acts, the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA).
  • In fact, the NRA helped write most of the federal laws restricting gun use until the 1980s.
  • What happened to the Second Amendment during the first 100 years of the NRA’s existence?
  • Maybe they didn’t learn about it until 1980?
  • Do you know why they were supporting gun control in the 30s?
  • It was introduced just after the repeal of Prohibition and was designed to get Tommy Guns off the streets.
  • Do you know why they were called Tommy Guns?
  • The Thompson submachine gun is an American submachine gun, invented by John T. Thompson in 1918.
  • He built it for the Allies to use in WWI.
  • In 1929, Al Capone’s St. Valentine’s Day massacre saw men disguised as Chicago police kill 7 rivals with machine guns.
  • Bonnie and Clyde’s crime-and-gun spree from 1932-34 was a national sensation.
  • John Dillinger robbed 10 banks in 1933 and fired a machine gun as he sped away.
  • In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made fighting crime and gun control part of his ‘New Deal.’
  • The NRA helped him draft the first federal gun controls: 1934’s National Firearms Act and 1938’s Gun Control Act.
  • The NRA President at the time, Karl T. Frederick, a 1920 Olympic gold-medal winner for marksmanship who became a lawyer, praised the new state gun controls in Congress.
  • “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” he testified before the 1938 law was passed.
  • “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”
  • The legal doctrine of gun rights balanced by gun controls held for nearly a half-century.
  • The 1968 Gun Control Act was initially prompted by the assassination of Kennedy in 1963.
  • He was shot and killed with a rifle purchased by mail-order from an ad in the (NRA) magazine American Rifleman.
  • Congressional hearings followed and a ban on mail-order gun sales was discussed, but no law was passed until 1968.
  • At the hearings NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth supported a ban on mail-order sales, stating, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”
  • BTW, you won’t find any of this history on the NRA’s website.
  • The deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968 and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 renewed efforts to pass the bill.
  • It regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners.
  • It primarily focuses on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
  • The nation’s white political elite feared that violence was too prevalent and there were too many people—especially urban Black nationalists—with access to guns.
  • In May 1967, two dozen Black Panther Party members walked into the California Statehouse carrying rifles to protest a gun-control bill, prompting then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to comment, “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”
  • It was the Black Panthers, not the NRA, who were using the Second Amendment to justify an individual’s right to carry a loaded weapon.
  • The Black Panthers was a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in October 1966.
  • At its inception the Black Panther Party’s core practice was its armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of officers of the Oakland Police Department and challenge police brutality in Oakland, California.
  • So the BPP wanted guns to defend themselves against the cops – and the whites wanted guns to defend themselves agains the BPP.
  • In 1971, ATF raided a lifetime NRA member’s house who was suspected of having a large illegal arms cache and shot and killed him.
  • A split started to widen inside the NRA.
  • Gun dealers thought they were being harassed.
  • Rural states felt they were being unduly punished for urban America’s problems.
  • In 1975, the NRA created a new lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, under Harlon B. Carter, a tough-minded former chief of the U.S. Border Patrol who shared the libertarian goal of expanding gun owners’ rights.
  • Carter was a Texan who, According to Carol Vinzant’s 2005 book, Lawyers, Guns, and Money: One Man’s Battle With The Gun Industry, killed a Mexican teenager when he was only 17.
  • A 17-year-old Carter – whose middle name by the way was Bronson, so perfect – found and confronted a Mexican teenager who he believed helped steal his family’s car.
  • Carter confronted the kid with a shotgun and told him to come into his house for question.
  • The 15 year old refused and pulled a knife
  • Carter shot and killed him.
  • Why would you pull a knife on someone pointing a shotgun at you?
  • Carter was first convicted of murder but it was overturned in appeal.
  • In November 1976, the NRA’s old guard Board of Directors fired Carter and 80 other employees associated with the more expansive view of the Second Amendment and implicit distrusting any government firearm regulation.
  • For months, the Carter cadre secretly plotted their revenge and hijacked the NRA’s annual meeting in Cincinatti in May 1977.
  • The meeting had been moved from Washington to protest its new gun control law.
  • Carter’s top deputy Neal Knox was even more extreme than him—wanting to roll back all existing gun laws, including bans on machine guns and saying the federal government had killed Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy as “part of a plot to advance gun control.”
  • Carter managed to take over the NRA and became their new President.
  • And he changed the organization’s motto on its DC headquarters, selectively editing the Second Amendment to reflect a non-compromising militancy, “The Right Of The People To Keep And Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.”
  • After Carter was re-elected to lead the NRA in 1981, The New York Times reported on Carter’s teenage vigilante killing—and how he changed his first name’s spelling to hide it.
  • At first, he claimed the shooting was by someone else—and then recanted but refused to discuss it.
  • The hard-liners in the NRA loved it. Who better to lead them than a man who really understood the value of a gun for self-protection?
  • After the coup, the NRA ramped up donations to congressional campaigns.
  • “And in 1977, new articles on the Second Amendment appeared rewriting American history to legitimize the armed citizen unregulated except by his own ability to buy a gun at whatever price he could afford.”
  • That revisionist perspective was endorsed by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch in 1982, when staffers wrote a report concluding it had discovered “long lost proof” of an individual’s constitutional right to bear arms.
  • The NRA’s fabricated but escalating view of the Second Amendment was ridiculed by former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger—a conservative appointed by President Richard Nixon—in a PBS Newshour interview in 1991, where he called it “one of the greatest pieces of fraud—I repeat the word ‘fraud’—on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
  • Burger would not have imagined that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008—13 years after he died—led by libertarian activist Justice Antonin Scalia—would enshrine that “fraud” into the highest echelon of American law by decreeing that the Second Amendment included the right to own a gun for self-protection in one’s home.
  • The NRA spends about $250m per year, far more than all the country’s gun control advocacy groups put together.
  • But the NRA has a much larger membership than any of those groups and disburses funds for things such as gun ranges and educational programmes.
  • In terms of lobbying, the NRA officially spends about $3m per year to influence gun policy – the recorded spend on lobbying in 2014 was $3.3m.
  • That is only the recorded contributions to lawmakers however, and considerable sums are spent elsewhere via PACs and independent expenditures – funds which are difficult to track.
  • Between 2000 and 2010 it spent fifteen times as much on campaign contributions as gun-control advocates did.
  • Leading up to the 2016 election, the NRA spent more than $30 million in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
  • In 2016, the NRA reported $433.9 million for total revenue.
  • That up from $256 million in 2012.
  • Where does the NRA get it’s money from?
  • The bulk comes in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources.
  • In 2016, the NRA generated the majority of its revenue from membership dues, $163.5 million.
  • Program they run, like events and training, accounted for $69 million.
  • And investments, royalties and assets accounted for approximately $30 million.
  • Also had cash and investments totaled $173.3 million.
  • But the biggest source of funding is from contributions, $171 million.
  • Some of these are individuals – including super rich individuals tied to the gun industry – and corporate donations.
  • It runs a program called the NRA Ring of Freedom which celebrates individual and corporate contributions.
  • Anyone who donates more than $1 million gets a gold jacket.
  • On their website, the NRA state this and I love it: “The NRA Ring of Freedom is dedicated to building relationships with patriots who are seeking to secure the future of freedom. Our mission is to gather the resources required to help preserve the uniquely American freedoms set forth by our Founding Fathers in the Second Amendment.”
  • You don’t get much more MURICA than that.
  • Donors include firearm companies like Midway USA, Springfield Armory Inc, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, Beretta USA Corporation, Cabela’s, an outdoor retailer who sells guns and ammo, Sturm Rugar & Co, and Smith & Wesson, both gun manufacturers.
  • It also makes about $20 million a year from selling advertising in its magazines and websites to gun manufacturers.
  • Additionally, some companies donate portions of sales directly to the NRA.
  • Crimson Trace, which makes laser sights, donates 10 per cent of each sale to the NRA.
  • Taurus buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys one of their guns.
  • Sturm Rugar gives $1 to the NRA for each gun sold, which amounts to millions.
  • The NRA’s revenues are intrinsically linked to the success of the gun business.
  • The NRA is a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry.
  • While the NRA portrays itself as protecting the ‘freedom’ of individual gun owners, it’s actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory.
  • There are two reasons for the industry support for the NRA.
  • The first is that the organisation develops and maintains a market for their products.
  • The second, less direct function, is to absorb criticism in the event of PR crises for the gun industry.
  • It’s possible that without the NRA, people would be protesting outside of Glock and Smith & Wesson and dragging the CEOs in front of cameras and Congress.
  • That is certainly what happened to tobacco executives when their products continued killing people.
  • Tobacco executives even attempted to form their own version of the NRA in 1993, seeing the inherent benefit to the industry that such an effort would have.
  • Philip Morris bankrolled the National Smokers Alliance, a group that never quite had the groundswell of support the industry wanted.
  • But money is less crucial than you’d think.
  • The N.R.A.’s annual lobbying budget is usually around three million dollars, which is about a fifteenth of what, say, the National Association of Realtors spends.
  • The N.R.A.’s biggest asset isn’t cash but the devotion of its members.
  • Adam Winkler, a law professor at U.C.L.A. and the author of the 2011 book “Gunfight,” said, “N.R.A. members are politically engaged and politically active. They call and write elected officials, they show up to vote, and they vote based on the gun issue.”
  • In one study, people who were in favor of permits for gun owners described themselves as more invested in the issue than gun-rights supporters did.
  • Yet people in the latter group were four times as likely to have donated money and written a politician about the issue.
  • Michael Bloomberg’s Super pac, Independence USA, has spent millions backing gun-control candidates, and he’s pledged fifty million dollars to the cause.
  • Back in 2014, former New York City mayor and billionaire media magnate started “Everytown for Gun Safety.”
  • Its goal was as clear as its method: Get gun control passed by erasing Republicans’ financial incentives to stick by the NRA.
  • “Those who favor gun control convinced enough elements of the donor community that the problem was money,” said Matt Grossmann, a political scientist at Michigan State University, in an interview. “They went about trying to solve that problem by matching the gun rights lobby’s funding.”
  • but America still can’t enact meaningful gun legislation.
  • One of the most prominent critics of Democrats’ gun control measure was Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican and reliable NRA ally since before his 2002 election.
  • The NRA has given Cornyn about $30,000 over the past decade.
  • In 2014, the NRA gave him $9,900 — more than it gave to any other Republican senator that election cycle.
  • But it was a drop in his much bigger ocean of donations.
  • In 2014 he raised $14 million, including $57,000 from Exxon alone.
  • The NRA was nowhere near his top 15 biggest donor contributors.
  • All of the money the NRA has given Cornyn for more than a decade might pay for about 1 percent of his fundraising for one election cycle — and Cornyn is one of the biggest recipients of NRA cash in Congress.
  • Overall, though the NRA does help pump money into outside spending groups, Republican lawmakers could fund their campaigns just fine if the NRA bowed out.
  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA gave close to $1 million to Republican senators’ PACs in 2014 — or about 1 percent of the $67 million they raised that year.
  • The NRA’s 5 million members give it ground troops who mobilize to call congressional offices, volunteer in campaigns, and share political views with friends and neighbors.
  • The mere fact that a person would bother to have voluntarily joined a political advocacy organization sends a powerful signal to politicians that he or she is an engaged member of the electorate who will pay attention to political events and show up on Election Day.
  • But the NRA really only does one thing: It opposes gun regulations.
  • So when NRA leaders show up in Congress or in a state legislature with members behind them, people know the members are serious.
  • And that even if politicians manage to cook up a gun bill or seven that does well in polls or focus groups (and liberals have gotten pretty good at this), the leadership of the organization can credibly communicate back to its members that the bill is bad for gun rights and should be opposed.
  • There are lots of groups in Washington with money, some groups with mass membership, and a bunch of groups with narrow focus.
  • But since there tends to be a trade-off between focus and breadth of membership, the NRA is almost unique in combining the two.
  • This is why the NRA’s scorecards are far more powerful than its political donations.
  • Polls often show that more Americans favor tightening gun control laws than relaxing them, but gun rights advocates are much more likely to be single-issue voters than those on the other side of the question.
  • As a result, the NRA can reliably deliver votes.
  • Politicians also fear the activism of NRA members.
  • They’re widely believed to be more likely to attend campaign events, ring doorbells, and make phone calls to help their favored candidates—or defeat their opponents—than senior citizens, members of labor unions, or public school teachers.
  • The NRA also has a better ground game than many other lobbying organizations.
  • The group relies on scores of independent gun magazines, thousands of gun shops, and gun clubs across the country to help spread its message well beyond its membership.
  • Congress isn’t just against high-profile gun regulation – even measures supported by a large majority of the American people – it also prohibits federal efforts to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.
  • There is a 20-year-old ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research gun violence.
  • There was a proposal in 2015 to end the ban, but the GOP controlled Congress killed it.
  • Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said of the proposal. “We don’t think this place is the appropriate place for a debate over the Second Amendment.”
  • The Republicans wrote: “The restriction is to prevent activity that would undertake activities (to include data collection) for current or future research, including under the title ‘gun violence prevention,’ that could be used in any manner to result in a future policy, guidelines, or recommendations to limit access to guns, ammunition, or to create a list of gun owners.”
  • The NRA loves mass shootings.
  • In the first 18 days after the Sandy Hook school massacre, the NRA gained more than 100,000 new members.
  • Firearms sales also soared in the weeks after the shooting.
  • HOWEVER
  • As I said earlier, the homicide rate and the crime rate in the USA has also been dropping for the last 20 years, just like in Australia, the UK and Canada.
  • It’s difficult to compare the crime rates across the four countries because they are all measured differently.
  • And, as anyone who watched The Wire know, there is the juking the stats problem.
  • That said, most research agrees that the overall the total crime rate of the United States is higher than developed countries, specifically Europe, with South American countries and Russia being the exceptions.
  • And the homicide rate in the United States is substantially higher – as is the prison population.
CONCLUSIONS
  • I’m not here to pass judgment on America.
  • Or to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
  • It’s your fucking country.
  • But the usual reasons we hear for why America is different when it comes to guns are bullshit.
  • I think it breaks down to three things.
  • 1) Americans think guns are a right – the rest of the world thinks they are a privilege.
  • 2) The NRA went rogue in the 70s and turned itself into a powerful lobbying group for the gun industry.
  • 3) Americs is a much more violent country.
  • While it’s true that crime and violence in America is trending downwards, despite record numbers of guns in the society.
  • remember the USA has 4.88 intentional homicides per 100,000.
  • Which is the lowest rate since the late 50s.
  • Australia only has 0.98
  • UK 0.92
  • USA homicide rate is roughly 5 times Australia and the UK, three times as high as Canada (1.9) and six times as high as Germany and Italy (0.9).
  • Compared to other countries identified in the report as “developed”, which all had average homicide rates of 0.8 per 100,000, America is a much more violent country.
  • Why is America such a violent country?
  • Is it more violent because they have more guns?
  • Or do they have more guns because they are more violent?
  • I don’t know.
  • The researchers at the National Research Council said there is little evidence that violent attacks occur more frequently in the United States than elsewhere.
  • It’s the lethality of those attacks that stand out.
  • Unfortunately you can’t get past all the gun stuff.
  • But Switzerland trails behind only the U.S, Yemen and Serbia in the number of guns per capita; between 2.3 million and 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in a country of only 8 million people.
  • Yet, despite the prevalence of guns, the violent-crime rate is low: government figures show about 0.5 total homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, a tenth of the US.
  • And they’ve only had one mass shooting in the last 40 years.
  • But they also have a great safety net.
  • And their reasons for having guns is that they are worried about being invaded.
  • Not for personal safety.
  • Is it about Christianity?
  • Are Christians more violent?
  • 70% of Americans are Christians which is pretty high compared to Australia – 52%.
  • But the UK is 64%, not much difference there either.
  • 60% in Germany.
  • Some people have suggested to me that it’s something to do with the non-white population of America.
  • But the UK has a huge non-white population too – 80% of the UK are white, versus 70% in America.
  • So I don’t think it’s about race per se.
  • But it might be about how the races are treated, the social safety net, etc.
  • It’s true that most of the violence in America is located in highly poverty-stricken and violent inner-city areas.
  • Are those areas getting enough attention and investment in infrastructure, education, health care, programs to get people out of poverty?
  • There was a massive increase in violence in America from the late 60s onwards.
  • Which coincides with the end of segregation and the civil rights movement.
  • And of course a lot of soldiers returning home from Vietnam.
  • But I suspect in America it has a lot to do with the same reasons it has mass shootings and this strange view about guns, and a suicide rate that’s increasing.
  • A lack of a safety net, health care and mental health care, the amount of hours and weeks Americans work
  • I keep thinking about what my friend Chris said when he moved back to Brisbane after living in the U.S. for 8 years, about how he felt this enormous cloud that had been hanging over him, that he wasn’t even aware of, start to dissipate.

 

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