Beyond the N.R.A.

There is more than meets the eye, in this contest that pits the worthiness of human lives versus revenue…

by: Michael Shields

The N.R.A., and its gargantuan influence on lawmakers, receives the brunt of the blow regarding who or what is to blame in America’s inability to enact regulations that could undoubtedly make the country a safer place in which to live, and assuredly, the N.R.A. deserves the harsh criticism. The association’s hands aren’t simply coated in red from the blood of so many innocent lives gunned down well before their time, but with green as well — brimming with an enormous bankroll in support of their cause. According to James Surowiecki of The New Yorker, in an article entitled “Taking on the N.R.A.,” “The [N.R.A.] has an annual operating budget of some quarter of a billion dollars, and between 2000 and 2010 it spent fifteen times as much on campaign contributions as gun-control advocates did.” But it isn’t simply about money. Mr. Surowiecki goes on to explain that dedication and single-mindedness is at play as well. “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,” [sic] told [James], ‘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.’” The N.R.A. and its members remain relentless, willing to do whatever it takes to mitigate even the most sensible of gun control measures. Yet while this one powerful organization’s hold on Washington appears the preeminent impediment to change, there is far more to the perpetual stalemate our nation finds itself in.

America’s infatuation with firearms is consummate. Our entertainment industry is awash with gunplay and violence. Our recreational activities invoke weapons and aggression. And our affinity for guns, to many, is as much a family tradition as Thanksgiving turkey. Firearms played an integral role in the formation of the country, and feelings of fondness for guns associated with romanticized days of yore have trickled down from generation to generation. Although many turn towards the Constitution in defense of the “right to bear arms,” few people authentically believe it is about maintaining a militia; it’s about devotion and legacy, and more than that — it’s often about power. Guns have the capability to appease one’s ego. They possess the ability to make a person feel all-powerful and authoritative, and deceptively safe ((A 2009 study by Professor Charles Branas and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania proved that in an assault those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry.)). But again, there is more to it. It isn’t simply about culture, ego, or the aforementioned motives of the N.R.A. It once again comes down to the almighty dollar. Guns, it turns out, are our livelihood.

Our jobs, in so many ways, define us personally. Of course a person is more than simply their occupation, but what we spend the majority of our waking hours engaging in oftentimes represents the type of person we are. And if we are to take this idea and extrapolate it globally, it is so easy for people around the world to look at the United States as little more than our planet’s weapons depot. America’s preeminent job, so to speak, is to manufacture and distribute weapons. Statistically speaking, that is our contribution to the planet, as we are the world’s leading weapons exporter by a wide margin. In 2011, overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market and that number increases annually, growing by 23% between 2009 and 2014. And these statistics are solely accounting for what we send out of the country. Here at home, $6 billion of our Gross Domestic Product is estimated to be generated by gun and ammunition production, with over 200,000 people working in the industry. Guns are big business. It’s American business. It’s part of the fabric of American life, and even with senseless mass killings becoming a routine occurrence, it appears that this isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Alternatives to petroleum exist. Scientists and engineers have developed methods to harvest power that are environmentally conscious. If we as a country decide to commit resources to their implementation, these novel and state-of-the-art techniques could power the grid that illuminates and heats our homes and places of work. Simultaneously, there exists technology where our transportation system could be powered without the use of fossil fuels. Be it hydrogen fuel cells, electricity, biodiesels, ethanol, compressed air, or liquid nitrogen – there are options. But there is still money to be made from petroleum, boatloads of it. And because of this, those who benefit from its extraction and refinement will see to it that every last drop will be siphoned from the earth regardless of the costs. This is the same with guns. Their profitability is such that those who are making bounteous amounts of money from their existence aren’t going to relent regardless of the consequences of an increased availability of firearms. This is the reality of the situation, and what gun-control advocates are up against. In the name of greed, the United States of America is responsible for fashioning not just our country, but the entire world, a far less safe place to live.

In sharp contrast to America, Cuba, a country whose relations with ours have been tempestuous, boast as their leading export something they can be extremely proud of: doctors. Cuba has trained more medical professionals per capita than any other developed nation. In 2010 it had 6.7 doctors for every 1,000 citizens, according to the World Bank ((In the United States in the same year, there were 2.4 doctors for every 1,000 Americans.)). Of the country’s 69,000 doctors, more than 20 % are currently on medical missions in 66 countries. They have been on the front lines in the war against Ebola, and are the first deployed (and last to leave) in worldwide crises involving natural disasters. While there are concerns over many aspects of the program, Cuba’s contribution to the world is trained professionals able to help others, while the United States’ leading export are tools that make it easier to take another’s life.

The gun control debate is complicated — and unique in that we are truly the only country reduced to this discussion, this contest that pits the worthiness of human lives versus revenue. For many moons, it has been the case that gun laws in America are slack, not because the N.R.A. or those who profit from guns want it this way, but because Americans want this to be the case. As a country, we’ve decided that limiting guns is unacceptable and gun owners are protected by the Second Amendment. There are signs though that our national mindset is changing, that there is finally hope that a fire that has been fiercely burning out of control could one day be extinguished. A Gallup poll released last week, found that 55 % of Americans favor stricter gun control legislation — an increase of 8 percentage points from last year. In James Surowiecki’s article referenced earlier, he quotes Adam Winkler once again, who stated that, “we’ve seen a completely new, reinvigorated gun-control movement, one that has much more grassroots support, and that’s now being backed by real money.” For example “Michael Bloomberg’s Super Pac, Independence USA, has spent millions backing gun-control candidates, and he’s pledged fifty million dollars to the cause.” There is finally opposition, and people are beginning to understand that passive activism just isn’t going to cut it on this issue. But as is invariably the case, support for gun control will once again begin to wane as the most recent mass shooting recedes from memory. But there will unquestionably be another, and then another, until we can come together as a nation and proactively demand that life is more valuable than the almighty dollar. It’s our only hope.

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