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The Oregon Massacre Won’t Shake NRA Stranglehold

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President Obama, stern and visibly shaken by the Oregon massacre, lambasted the NRA yet again for its suffocating grip on Congress. An equally shaken Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, said that she was sickened by the sheep-like willingness of Congress to do the bidding of the NRA. Obama didn’t single out Congressional Republicans as the prime culprits, but it was strongly implied that he meant them in the congressional genuflection to the NRA. Clinton, however, did finger Republicans as the culprits and vowed to go after the GOP if elected. Clinton and Obama are right, but both left this out in their targets. In 2010, 53 Democrats took tens of thousands in campaign cash from the NRA.

In 2012, a presidential election year, 16 House Democrats and four Senate Democrats were back at the NRA’s cash trough. Now four years later, and despite near weekly gun shootings and massacres, the NRA is unfazed. It wasted no time in plopping down more than $1 million for an ad than ran on Fox News, CNN and on local television in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada during the first GOP presidential debate in August. These are the three early presidential primary or caucus states and an NRA digital ad ran in South Carolina, the other early primary state. This was small change compared to what NRA officials say they’ll spend to beat back even the hint of a congressional move to tighten gun control laws in 2016 and beyond.

The NRA has been wildly successful in doing just that for the past decade through a well-oiled, well-versed, labyrinth of PACs, lobbyists, legal counsels, divisions, funds and a foundation. The NRA has these divisions: Federal Affairs, Public Affairs, Finance, Research and Information, Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources and most importantly the NRA Political Victory Fund. Its scorecard of wins is still nothing short of phenomenal.

In 2008 it was directly or indirectly involved in nearly 300 campaigns for the House and Senate. NRA backed candidates or incumbents won 230 of them. It spared little expense in padding its congressional win scorecard. It ranked in the top tier of contributions received, lobbying dollars spent, and money garnered and spent by its PACs. But it’s not just the NRA’s money and willingness to spend it to pack Congress with pro-gun backers. It also cherry picked former government officials or job holders to do its congressional arm twisting for it. In 2012, fifteen out of its near 30 lobbyists had government ties.

The assumption that the NRA is basically a front for conservative GOP business and political interests is, as the NRA dollars to Democrats in 2010 showed, another bad misread. Though a big share of the NRA’s campaign dollars went to Republicans it has been adept at spreading the largess around. In 2012, Democrats received more than $2 million in NRA campaign contributions.

The NRA has gotten a stupendous return on the $17 million it spent on federal elections in 2012 and the tens of millions it spent on past elections. In the decade since the assault ban expired in 2004, nearly 20 strong gun control bills have died still born in House and Senate committees. There hasn’t been much movement in the states either to get tougher gun control laws. Thirty-three of the states have the barest minimal gun checks. A dozen others have only slightly more restrictive controls on guns.

The Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 plopped the NRA on the nation’s hot seat. The White House, many lawmakers, and much of the public demanded that the NRA soften its hard line opposition to any gun control measures. It almost certainly will do a little to stem the storm which could include calling for stronger measures on storage of weapons, tighter screening and back ground checks, maybe even borrowing a page from the tobacco industry’s PR gambit and advocate hazard warnings on the improper use of guns, and even offer to be part of a national conversation on gun violence. But doing much more than that, such as advocating full blown bans on the big ticket deadly weapons, would upend the philosophical and political bedrock of the NRA. It would jeopardize the near bottomless storehouse of funding that the organization has received from gun industry interests and supporters. It would instantly turn off thousands of avid gun owners that look to the NRA to be its political mouthpiece in Washington and in the states for unfettered gun rights.

After each fresh mass bloodletting, Obama and a majority of Americans scream loudly for Congress to do something, anything, to stop the gun carnage. The NRA is always singled out as the group with the blood on its organization’s hands. The Oregon massacre, sadly, won’t shake the NRA stranglehold that insures that nothing is done.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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