Ky. Voices: Voters may turn tide against NRA

Ronald P. Formisano is a University of Kentucky history professor and author of The Tea Party: A Brief History (Johns Hopkins)
Ronald P. Formisano is a University of Kentucky history professor and author of The Tea Party: A Brief History (Johns Hopkins)

In, Congress the gun industry lobbyists and allies seem to be winning. An assault rifle ban and even a limit on magazines (incredibly) seem unlikely. Background checks, but apparently without registration, have a chance, and the Senate just voted to allow debate with a tough fight ahead. Meanwhile, several states have enacted bold legislation controlling firearms purchases without limiting their responsible use in hunting or sport. Other states have danced to the tune of the gun manufacturers and expanded the presence of guns in public places.

In the short term the move toward sanity in the wake of Newtown seems to be stalled, but in the long term the tide may have turned.

For openers, the National Rifle Association leadership is being increasingly exposed as well-paid lobbyists for gun manufacturers, whose extreme positions do not represent most Americans, most gun owners or even most of its 5 million members. NRA executives' primary concern is not "gun rights" but the profits of the gun industry.

For decades, the gun industry lobby has insisted that the government should "enforce the laws on the books" and "keep guns out of the hands of criminals" while hiding the dirty secret that its enablers in Congress have undermined those very laws, including blocking law enforcement officers from researching gun trafficking among criminals.

The gun industry's chief lobbyist, Wayne La Pierre, in his hysterical response to Newton, compounded the gun lobby's hypocrisy by blaming mass killings on, among other things, "vicious, violent video games," calling them the "filthiest form of pornography." But the games makers, e.g. Electronic Arts, maintain close marketing relationships with weapons makers (McMillan, Magpul) whose lethal products are portrayed as exact replicas in the games.

And those industries give lots of money to the NRA to campaign against political candidates daring to vote for gun control. And to repeat endlessly the leadership's propaganda so often that politicians and people come to believe, for example, that assault rifle bans do not work (they do); that mental illness is a bigger problem than guns (about 4 percent of violence in the U.S, can be attributed to individuals with mental illness), and the list goes on.

But signs of shifting opinion emerge.

Young Americans are less likely to own guns (hence a gun industry campaign to entice them) and after Newtown the 18-to-29 age group was most likely to see gun control as a bigger issue than protecting gun rights. A movement in several states to require gun owners to buy liability insurance might make a difference too, depending on how any laws are written.

Most importantly, gun-control political-action committees have formed to counter the weight of gun industry money in electoral campaigns. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns contributed $2 million to the February Congressional primary victory of a pro-control Democrat in Illinois who made new laws an issue over NRA-backed rivals. Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her ex-astronaut and combat-veteran husband Capt. Mark Kelly, who also happen to be enthusiastic gun owners, have launched a campaign to pressure Congress to act.

Mobilizing votes at the ballot box may eventually create votes in Congress and turn the tide. These efforts should be supported by the majority millions who want sanity in gun legislation. Then Newtown will not be a one-time story.

All print and electronic media should continue to expose the myths of gun industry lobbyists and their profit at any cost mentality, even if they cannot control their own obscene coverage of mass murder exemplified by turning a deranged youth into a "gunman" or "shooter" and giving him his 15 minutes of celebrity.